Mairead Corrigan (born 27 January 1944), also known as Máiread Corrigan-Maguire and Mairead Maguire, is an Irish peace activist. She co-founded, with Betty Williams, the Community of Peace People, an organisation which attempts to encourage a peaceful resolution of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The two women received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. Corrigan has won several other awards.
In recent years, she has become an active critic of the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestine and the Palestinian people. To draw attention in a supposedly peaceful and non-violent way to this policy, in particular to the land and naval blockade of Gaza, in June 2010 Corrigan went on board the “aid ship”, the MV Rachel Corrie. The ship was the remaining member of an international flotilla bound for the Gazan coastline, but finally was denied to go there.
Corrigan was born into a Roman Catholic community; she attended a Catholic school until the age of 14, then found a job as a secretary.
Northern Ireland peace movement:
Corrigan became active with the peace movement after three children of her sister, Anne Maguire, were run over and killed by a car driven by Danny Lennon, a Provisional Irish Re-publican Army (PIRA) man who was fatally shot by British troops while trying to make a getaway. Anne Maguire later committed suicide.
Betty Williams had witnessed the event, and soon after the two co-founded “Women for Peace”, which later became the “Community for Peace People”.
By the end of the month Williams and Corrigan brought 35,000 people onto the streets of Belfast petitioning for peace between the republican and loyalist factions. She believed the most effective way to end the violence was not violence but re-education.
She received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Betty Williams, in 1977 (the prize for 1976) for their efforts. At the age of 32, she is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to date.
After the Nobel Prize:
In 1981 she married Jackie Maguire, who was the widower of her late sister, Anne. She has three stepchildren and two of her own, John and Luke.
In 1990 Corrigan was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for ‘Peace on Earth’.
She is member of the Honorary board of the International Coalition for the Decade of the culture of Peace and Nonviolence.
In 2006, Corrigan was one of the founders of The Nobel Women’s Initiative along with fellow Nobel Peace Laureates Betty Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Six women representing North America and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace with justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women’s Initiative to help strengthen work being done in support of women’s rights around the world.
She is a member of the pro-life group Consistent Life Ethic, which is against abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia.
Corrigan has been involved in a number of campaigns on behalf of political prisoners around the world. She was a first signatory on a 2008 petition calling for Turkey to end its torture of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. In October 2010, Corrigan signed a petition calling for China to release Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo from house arrest.
Mairead Corrigan was twice arrested in the United States. On 17 March 2003, Corrigan was arrested outside the United Nations compound in New York City during a protest against the Iraq War. Later that month, on 27 March, she was one of 65 anti-war protesters briefly taken into custody by police after penetrating a security barricade near the White House. In May 2009, following a visit to Guatemala, immigration authorities at the Houston Airport in Texas detained Corrigan for a number of hours, during which time she was questioned, fingerprinted and photographed. “They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities,” she explained.
On 9 October 2009, Corrigan expressed disappointment with the choice of U.S. President Barack Obama as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, stating, “giving this award to the leader of the most militarized country in the world, which has taken the human family against its will to war, will be rightly seen by many people around the world as a reward for his country’s aggression and domination.”
Mairead Corrigan is a vocal supporter of Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician who revealed details of Israel’s nuclear defense program to the British press in 1986 and subsequently served 18 years in prison for treason. In December 2004 Corrigan flew to Israel to greet Vanunu upon his release. At a joint press conference in Jerusalem, Corrigan compared Israel’s nuclear weapons to the Nazi gas chambers in Auschwitz. “When I think about nuclear weapons, I’ve been to Auschwitz concentration camp.” She went on, “Nuclear weapons are only gas chambers perfected … and for a people who already know what gas chambers are, how can you even think of building perfect gas chambers.”
In a speech delivered on 21 February 2006 before the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, California, Corrigan again invoked a comparison of Israel to the Nazis. “Last April some of us protested at Dimona Nuclear Plant, in Israel, calling for it to be open to UN Inspection, and bombs to be destroyed. Israeli Jets flew overhead, and a train passed into the Dimona Nuclear site. This brought back to me vivid memories of my visit to Auschwitz concentration camp, with its rail tracks, trains, destruction and death.”
On 20 April 2007, Corrigan participated in a protest against the construction of Israel’s security fence outside the Arab settlement of Bil’in. Being that the protest was in a no-access military zone, Israeli forces used tear-gas grenades and rubber-coated bullets in an effort to disperse the protesters, while the protesters hurled rocks at Israel’s troops, injuring two Border Guard policemen. One rubber bullet hit Corrigan in the leg, whereupon she was transferred to an Israeli hospital for treatment. She was also reported to have inhaled large quantities of tear gas.
In October 2008, Corrigan arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity. Although Israel had insisted that the yacht would not be permitted to approach Gaza, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ultimately capitulated and allowed the ship to sail to its destination without incident. During her stay in Gaza, Corrigan met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. She was photo-graphed accepting an honorary golden plate depicting the Palestinian flag draped over all of Israel and the disputed territories.
In November 2008, Corrigan urged that the UN suspend or revoke Israel’s membership.
In March 2009 Mairead Corrigan joined a campaign for the immediate and unconditional removal of Hamas from the European Union list of proscribed terrorist organizations.
In April 2009, Corrigan alleged that the Israeli government was “carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians” and that these policies “are against international law, against human rights, against the dignity of the Palestinian people.”
On 30 June 2009, Corrigan was taken into custody by the Israeli military along with twenty others, including former U.S. Congress member Cynthia McKinney. She was on board a small ferry, the MV Spirit of Humanity, said to be carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, when Israel intercepted the vessel off the coast of Gaza. From an Israeli prison, she gave a lengthy interview with Democracy Now! using her cell phone, and was deported on 7 July 2009 to Dublin.
In May-June 2010, Corrigan was a passenger on board the MV Rachel Corrie, one of seven vessels that were part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists that attempted to bust the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip. In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster while still at sea, Corrigan called the blockade an “inhumane, illegal siege.” Having been delayed due to mechanical problems, the Rachel Corrie did not actually sail with the flotilla and only approached the Gazan coast several days after the main flotilla did. In contrast with the violence that characterized the arrival of the first six ships, Israel’s takeover of the Rachel Corrie was met only with passive resistance. Israeli naval forces were even lowered a ladder by the passengers to assist their ascent onto the deck. After the incident, Corrigan said she did not feel her life was in danger as the ship’s captain, Derek Graham, had been in touch with the Israeli navy to assure them that there would be no violent resistance.
On 28 September 2010, Corrigan landed in Israel as part of a delegation of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She was refused an entry visa by Israeli authorities, citing that she had twice in the past tried to run Israel’s naval embargo of the Gaza Strip and that a 10-year deportation order was in effect against her. A legal team filed a petition against the order with the Central District Court on Corrigan’s behalf, but the court pronounced that the deportation order was valid. Corrigan then appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court. Initially, the Court proposed that Corrigan be allowed to remain in the country for a few days on bail despite the deportation order; however, the state rejected the proposal, arguing that Corrigan knew prior to her arrival she was barred from entering Israel and that her conduct amounted to taking the law into her own hands. A three-judge panel accepted the state’s position and upheld the ruling of the Central District Court. At one point during the hearing, Corrigan reportedly burst out and declared that Israel must stop “its apartheid policy and the siege on Gaza.” One of the judges scolded her and rejoined, “This is no place for propaganda.” Mairead Corrigan-Maguire was flown to the UK the following morning, 5 October 2010.
Mairead Corrigan’s frequent and often harsh attacks against the regional and domestic policies of the State of Israel have made her a controversial figure among Jews and Israelis. While some Israelis, in particular those oriented with the political left, have expressed sympathy with her statements and actions, others have accused her of applying a double standard toward Israel and even of promoting antisemitism.
In the wake of the 2009 Gaza flotilla, popular columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, observed that Corrigan was obsessed with Israel. “There is a lunatic coalition that does not concern itself with the slaughtered in Sri Lanka or with the oppressed Tibetans. They see only the struggle against the Israeli Satan.” He further charged that Corrigan chose to identify with a population that elected an openly antisemitic movement to lead it – one whose raison d’etre is the destruction of the Jewish state.
Deputy head of the Israeli foreign mission to Canada, Eliaz Luf, has argued that Corrigan’s activism plays into the hands of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.
Chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee Pacific Region, Michael Elterman, warned that Corrigan’s actions, though probably motivated by good intentions of endeavoring to help the Palestinian people, have been promoting an agenda of hatred and antisemitism.