Young Athletes Receive Almost £80,000 In Better Bursaries And Cash Awards

Lady Mary Peters, and GLL Regional Community Sports Manager Ronan McKenna with the GLL Sport Foundation Awards winners at Belfast City Hall last night.

Lady Mary Peters, and GLL Regional Community Sports Manager Ronan McKenna with the GLL Sport Foundation Awards winners at Belfast City Hall last night.

Social enterprise GLL awarded 129 gifted young athletes from Belfast with sporting bursaries, at an awards gala in Belfast City Hall on Tuesday 21 May.

GLL runs 14 Belfast City Council leisure centres (Better Belfast) and is distributing financial grants and Better training memberships worth almost £80,000 amongst some of Northern Ireland’s most talented young sport stars.

Many of these stars receive no other sports funding and rely on the bursaries to help them compete at national and international levels.

GLL’s Sport Foundation (GSF) is the largest independent athlete support programme in the UK. The annual awards cover Olympic, Paralympic, Deaflympic, Special Olympic and Commonwealth sporting disciplines, ensuring that athletes at a multitude of levels and abilities are supported on their sporting journeys.

Athletes supported by GSF will receive award packages that include financial grants up to £2000, free training memberships with access to 300 GLL and partner operated sporting venues and gyms, along with access to sports science, medical support and employment opportunities.

Lady Mary Peters, Rachel McCune, Jack McMillan, GLL Regional Director Gareth Kirk and Jack Agnew at the GLL Sport Foundation Awards at Belfast City Hall last night.

Lady Mary Peters, Rachel McCune, Jack McMillan, GLL Regional Director Gareth Kirk and Jack Agnew at the GLL Sport Foundation Awards at Belfast City Hall last night.

Ronan McKenna, Regional Community Sports Manager at GLL, paid tribute to the athletes:

“Every one of the athletes honoured this year has shown unbelievable commitment, drive and willingness to sacrifice to reach their potential.”

“GSF provides a fantastic support for some of our most promising young athletes and it’s an honour to be able to help them as they compete at the highest levels in their chosen sport.”

“I would like to thank all our partners and sponsors for supporting the programme. Belfast City Council, Mary Peters Trust and Rebound Physio provide the direct links to Sport Governing Body talent pathways, whilst our corporate sponsors headlined by GLL and Technogym, numerous local authorities, university and physiotherapy partners directly encourage these sporting dreams so that they can become a reality.”

Lady Mary Peters, explained why the Mary Peters Trust is one of the GSF Awards sponsors:

“It’s crucial that talented young athletes are supported early on. The passion that drives athletes to compete at the highest level is instilled in us when we’re young. Nurturing that talent and passion can create a legacy in Belfast of sporting excellence to inspire future generations.”

“The GSF is a lifeline to young athletes who dream of competing in their chosen sports at national level and representing their country at international championships and tournaments.”

“Young athletes starting out face serious challenges, especially when it comes to accessing training facilities and equipment and paying to travel to competitions. For many, the costs of competing are too high and can put them off getting involved.”

“The incredible training facilities in GLL’s Better Leisure Centres are perfect for young athletes to drive themselves on and fulfil their potential.”

Lady Mary Peters, Zeke Wilson, Lauren Strange, Carrie Carmichael and GLL Regional Director Gareth Kirk at the GLL Sport Foundation Awards at Belfast City Hall last night.

Lady Mary Peters, Zeke Wilson, Lauren Strange, Carrie Carmichael and GLL Regional Director Gareth Kirk at the GLL Sport Foundation Awards at Belfast City Hall last night.

Jack McMillan is a swimmer and a GSF Supported Athlete:

“I love swimming and am lucky that I’m able to pursue my passion in this way. I know that if it wasn’t for the support I’ve received from GSF I wouldn’t have been able to pursue it as successfully as I have so far.”

“I’m driven and I want to compete at the very highest level. The support I receive from GSF has been absolutely invaluable to supporting me in chasing that dream.”

“Being able to use the first-class Better facilities for free has had a fantastic impact on my training and preparation, and the physiotherapy sessions have been priceless. The GSF Bursary has really helped me and I know that the athletes receiving the bursaries this year will see the same positive effect on their training.”

Since launching in Belfast in 2015, the GSF has provided over 375 athlete awards at a total support value of over £230,000 across the city.

Previous GSF supported athletes have included boxer Anthony Joshua, Paralympian Michael McKillop and Irish Hockey International, Shirley McCay.

Forward Look; Forthcoming Political and Business Events; and Live Consultations


Forward Look

  • The Belfast City Council Annual General Meeting takes place on Tuesday 21 May. Newly elected Sinn Fein Councillor John Finucane will be the next Lord Mayor of Belfast.

  • The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will hear oral evidence from CEO of Hospitality Ulster Colin Neill as part of their inquiry into tourism in Northern Ireland.

  • The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Work and Pensions Committee have launched a joint inquiry into welfare policy in Northern Ireland. The deadline for written submissions is Friday 24 May.

  • Elections to the EU Parliament take place across Europe from 23-26 May. Polling day in Northern Ireland is 23 May and votes will be counted from 8am on Monday 27 May.

  • Parliament will be in recess from 24 May to 3 June.

  • A special EU summit will be held on 28 May to begin the process of nominating the next leaders of the EU institutions.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May will bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Parliament on the week commencing 3 June. She will set out the timetable for her departure after the vote.

  • The ballot to replace Dr Andrew Murrison as Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will take place between 10am and 1.30pm on Wednesday 12 June in Committee Room 16. Only members of the Conservative Party can be nominated for the post.

  • The Belfast Chamber of Commerce is seeking a new Chief Executive.

Upcoming Key Political and Business Events

  • 21 May, NI Chamber Customs Declarations Training

  • 21 May, Bertie Ahern Lecture at Queen’s ‘Peace Process – In light of Brexit Issues’

  • 22 May, Meet Belfast Chamber Event

  • 22 May, Queen’s University, Working with teams under pressure

  • 23 May, CBI Annual Dinner Northern Ireland

  • 23 May, NI Chamber Business Lunch with Department for International Trade

  • 23 May, IoD NI New and Renew Member Lunch

  • 23 May, Women in Business: Influence the Decision Makers

  • 23 May, European Parliament elections in the UK

  • 24 May, European Parliament and local government elections in the Republic of Ireland

  • 24 May, Referendum on Divorce in the Republic of Ireland

  • 24 May, Referendum on directly elected Mayors in Cork, Limerick and Waterford

  • 28 May, University of Ulster Northern Ireland Graduate Recruitment Fair

  • 28 May, NILGA Elected Member Planning Training



Oscar-Winning Director Alex Gibney to attend new all-Ireland documentary festival in Belfast next month

The Oscar-winning director of Loughinisland documentary, No Stone Unturned, Alex Gibney, will take part in an event on the opening night of the new all-Ireland documentary film festival, DOCS IRELAND.

Oscar winning director, Alex Gibney will attend the new DOCS IRELAND festival which takes place in Belfast from 12-16 June 2019.

Oscar winning director, Alex Gibney will attend the new DOCS IRELAND festival which takes place in Belfast from 12-16 June 2019.

Gibney will participate in an ‘In Conversation’ event with Brian Henry Martin and will also be presented with the “Outstanding Contribution to Documentary Film Award”.

The event marks the opening night of the first ever all-Ireland, industry focused, documentary festival, showcasing the hottest new films from award-winning documentarians. 

The new festival will also host a series of industry events, master-classes and pitching sessions for new and emerging filmmakers and give them the chance to meet with the most influential people in the sector to pitch ideas and learn about the business side of filmmaking, from expert filmmakers.

The festival has attracted the biggest names in the industry including Dogwoof, BBC Storyville, TG4, Channel 4, CAT&Docs, USA PBS, RTÉ, Northern Ireland Screen and Screen Ireland and a host of other investors who will be in Belfast to engage with filmmakers and develop new opportunities.

DOCS IRELAND will showcase the best new documentary films, presenting Irish and international feature length and short documentaries from 12-16 June in Belfast.

The full programme for the festival will be unveiled at noon on Wednesday 12 May at Belfast City Hall.

The festival includes screenings, talks and special events. Awards will also be presented for:

  • Best International Documentary

  • Best Irish Feature Documentary (The Pull Focus Award)

  • Best Irish Short Documentary

  • Best Observational Documentary (Maysles Brothers Award)

Co-Chair of DOCS IRELAND, filmmaker Brian Henry Martin, said:

“It’s a coup to have Alex come and join us for the opening night of DOCS IRELAND and we’re honoured to be able to present him with the Outstanding Contribution to Documentary Film Award.”

“The importance of documentary films today cannot be understated. It’s more important than ever that we celebrate those brave and creative voices who seek out the truth no matter what it is or where it takes them.”

“The launch of this festival is another sign of just how exciting and energetic the film industry is here. We’ve just celebrated our best-ever Belfast Film Festival with special guest, the megastar Aamir Khan. Now the fact that Alex is joining us shows that Belfast is not just punching above its weight when it comes to the film industry, it is knocking out the competition.”

Mark Cousins and Michele Devlin launch the programme for DOCS IRELAND, the brand new all-Ireland documentary film festival taking place in Belfast from 12-16 June 2019.

Mark Cousins and Michele Devlin launch the programme for DOCS IRELAND, the brand new all-Ireland documentary film festival taking place in Belfast from 12-16 June 2019.

Michele Devlin, Director of DOCS IRELAND said:

“This is a fantastic time for the film industry in Ireland, there’s a real sense of excitement and opportunity.  We are a nation of storytellers, and it seems year on year our indigenous talent becomes more and more confident and assured in their work.”

“Documentaries are more popular than ever and there is a huge appetite for them worldwide. The rise of streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix, and the growth of theatrical releases for documentaries, show that there is a hunger for real-life, compelling and beautifully told stories. By showing people here the very best work from around the world we can light a spark and inspire the next generation of documentarians.”

“The fact that Belfast is hosting the first ever all-Ireland industry focused documentary festival is an illustration of how vital we are to the sector.  We are looking forward to hosting over 30 national and international guests, all of whom are key decision makers in the documentary world.” 


Other highlights from the festival’s programme include:

 Diego Maradona: Thursday 13 June 6.45pm, Odeon Cinema Belfast Directed by one of the world’s hottest documentary filmmakers today, Asif Kapadia, this documentary focuses on the much-loved but controversial footballer. It includes never seen before footage from Maradona’s personal archive.

The Gift: The Journey Of Johnny Cash - Thursday 13 June 8.45pm, Odeon Cinema Belfast Taking the remarkable Folsom Prison recording as a central motif and featuring interviews with family and celebrated collaborators, the film explores the artistic victories, the personal tragedies, the struggles with addiction, and the spiritual pursuits that colored Johnny Cash’s life.

Game of Thrones: The Last Watch – Thursday 13 June, 6.30pm, The Strand Cinema This documentary delves deep into the mud and blood to reveal the challenge of bringing the fantasy world of Westeros to life in the very real studios, fields and carparks of Northern Ireland.

Framing John DeLorean – Friday 14 June, 6.45pm, Odeon Cinema Belfast A deep portrait of the controversial businessman with Alec Baldwin playing John DeLorean in re-enactments of key scenes in his life.

Firing Line with William F Buckley: Bernadette Devlin – Friday 14 June, 4.30pm, Queen’s Film Theatre An hour-long conversation between the respected American journalist and the Irish civil rights activist filmed in 1972.  Bernadette McAliskey will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Shellshock Rock – Sunday 16 June, 3pm, Ulster Museum A seminal documentary on the Northern Irish 1970’s punk rock scene.

Closing Night Gala: Gaza – Sunday 16 June, 6.45pm, Odeon Cinema Belfast This elegantly shot, and masterfully crafted portrait of Palestinian life offers a rare chance to be immersed in the heart of Gaza.

Trade Credit Insurance claims in Northern Ireland reach 10-year high

The Head of Trade Credit Insurance at Willis Towers Watson has said that the level of pay outs on Trade Credit Insurance policies have reached a 10 year high in Northern Ireland.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit at Willis Towers Watson, has warned that the spike in Credit Insurance claims is a reflection of challenges facing Northern Ireland companies as the number of business insolvencies increase at an extremely worrying rate.

Against the backdrop of Brexit and the continuing limbo unlikely to offer any significant respite from the pressures weighing on the local economy, the trading environment in Northern Ireland continues to face challenging times, particularly in the Construction, Retail, Food and Recruitment sectors.

However, in many cases, claims payments from Trade Credit Insurers have offered a lifeline to hundreds of NI businesses, with pay outs in 2018 at significant levels.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit at Willis Towers Watson said:

“The increase in claims is a barometer of what is happening in the wider local economy and unfortunately it doesn’t bode well.”

Nigel Birney

Nigel Birney

“We are now at a 10 year high in terms of pay outs which is a clear indication of what is going on. In 2018 we estimate that around £8million in claims was paid to Northern Ireland companies as a result of the failure of one of their customers and unfortunately the trend has continued into Q1 2019 with the failure of a number of high profile local companies.”

“For a business to thrive, risk mitigation is key and protection against non-payment is arguably more vital now than ever before. NI businesses are increasingly turning to Trade Credit Insurance to build that protection around them as well as leveraging the resources of the Trade Credit industry to access critical business intelligence to help make informed business decisions, recognising that avoiding a risk is as important as protecting against it.”

“Our market intelligence informs us that many companies out there are feeling enormous strain on cashflow and that the average Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is starting to creep up which is bringing many to the brink of failure, particularly in the construction and retail sectors, however all sectors are suffering and this view was validated in a recent press article by leading Insolvency Practitioner Begbies Traynor who have suggested that around 7000 businesses in Northern Ireland are in financial distress.”

“This is starting to manifest itself in the revision of economic forecasts such as that announced by Danske Bank just a couple of weeks ago who trimmed down their growth outlook for 2019 by some 0.2%.”  

He added:

“However, on the flip side, the increase in the number of claims also indicates that an increasing number of more risk aware local businesses use Trade Credit Insurance to complement their own internal credit control procedures and protect themselves against trade debtors defaulting in payment, which in many cases has saved their companies from that catastrophic failure experienced by others.”

Leading insurer Atradius has confirmed that the number of recent claims being made in respect of Northern Irish businesses defaulting or failing has increased significantly representing the highest volume of claims received in a decade. They also state that there has been a 50% year on year jump with increased incidences of high value claims, those above £90k, in 2018.

Tony Gordon, Head of Risk Services at Atradius Ireland said:

“The trading environment for business in Northern Ireland continues to be challenging. 2018 was a tough year for businesses and for the economy and the figures for Q1 2019 are showing no degree of comfort that a recovery is imminent with upward trend in claims volumes continuing.”

“Headline news often pinpoints key sectors such as construction and also foods and agriculture, but in reality, the challenges impact across all sectors. The key is to have access to up to date information and as underwriters it is vital for us to work closely with businesses, constantly monitoring changes and impacts. It has always been important to us to get out and meet businesses face to face and in today’s climate these regular touch points are more valuable than ever.”

“Credit managers already know that success hinges on keeping supply lines open and the flow of information to enable informed decisions is a critical factor. Our constant monitoring and access to real-time information enables Atradius to maintain our risk appetite, even during challenging cycles. Despite the current climate, we are continuing to support in excess of £1bn of trade in NI enabling our customers to continue to grow their businesses.” 

Live NI Consultations from Brown O'Connor Communications


Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster Welcome Business Rate Review

Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster have both welcomed the announcement by the Department of Finance that a comprehensive review of business rates is to be held. The Department of Finance Permanent Secretary Sue Gray made the announcement today at the Retail NI-DWF Local Government conference at Titanic Belfast.

Rates Review Picture 1.jpg

This Review had been a long-time objective of both Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster.

The Chief Executives of Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill said:

“Both our organisations are delighted that the Department of Finance has announced this review into non-domestic rates. We have consistently lobbied for this over a number of years and are pleased that our joint call has been heard.”

“While this is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. This review provides us with a roadmap for radical change to an antiquated and not fit for purpose system of business rates which is a major burden for our members.”

“In this review we will be outlining significant changes to Rates, including our proposals for a targeted approach to small business rates relief, a revamp of the Rates Hardship fund, green rates rebate for businesses who invest in carbon neutral technology and greater relief for new start businesses.”

“At the last UK Budget, the Chancellor gave independent retailers and hospitality businesses a third off their rate bills in England. We want nothing less than this for our members in Northern Ireland.”

Eversheds Sutherland bolster banking team with new Senior Associate

Damian McElholm 1.jpg

Eversheds Sutherland in Belfast has announced Damian McElholm as a new Senior Associate.

McElholm will join the banking group of the international firm bringing considerable experience of advising on large value and complex banking and finance transactions.

Prior to the Eversheds Sutherland appointment, he advised international financial institutions, leading renewable energy groups and acted for a private equity fund.

The announcement comes at a time of growth for the firms Belfast operation who recently announced the appointment of two new partners in Matthew Howse and Lisa Bryson, with total headcount in the Belfast office set to reach 30 in the next year.

The Belfast office works closely with the growing Dublin office, including in providing legal services to clients, including a specialist “Brexit Hub”. The two offices have also recently worked together to deliver high-profile Brexit advice events with the Chambers of Commerce in Newry and Derry.

Eversheds Sutherland Ireland managing partner Alan Murphy said:

“We are thrilled that Damian has joined us, bolstering the firm even further as we move into a period of expansion in Belfast and Dublin.”

“The uncertainty in the current political climate has made top tier legal advice even more important and our clients will really benefit from Damian’s experience in high-level, complex financial transactions. We’re responding to clear demand for trusted advice in a time of political and economic uncertainty and Damian will play an important role in that response.”

New Eversheds Sutherland, Senior Associate, Damian McElholm added:

“This is a wonderful opportunity to play a leading role in the development of the Eversheds Sutherland presence not only in Belfast, but in Dublin and throughout its international offices.”

“Eversheds Sutherland has grown from strength to strength in recent years and has become a byword for excellence in the legal profession in Northern Ireland. This move is a fantastic opportunity and I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead.”

Belfast City Centre Office Block sold for nearly £1.4m

A prominent office block on Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre has sold for nearly £1.4 million. The Grade A office space at 15-17 Chichester Street boasts over 6,300 square feet across 5 floors in one of the city’s prime locations.

Chichester St Building .jpg

The sale of the property to a private investor adds to the growing number of recent developments and transactions on Chichester Street alongside the likes of HMRC’s Erskine House located opposite, Wirefox’s The Paper Exchange and Chichester House next door, currently under redevelopment.

The completed deal comes at a time when the Belfast office market has been described as “buoyant” with occupier demand focussing the attention of investors and developers.

The building is currently occupied by law firm Hool Law who remain as the tenant.  

Neil McShane, Director of Commercial Property Investment Consultancy, INPRIO, who managed the sale said:

“As anticipated, we experienced high levels of interest in the property, with the successful buyer purchasing it for nearly £1.4m, equating to a net initial yield of 6.7%.”

Neil McShane, Director of INPRIO

Neil McShane, Director of INPRIO

“Not only was the property an attractive proposition, it is located in a prime location on Chichester Street which is experiencing a renaissance with an emerging mix of Grade A office space, co-working spots, retail outlets and hospitality venues which is a shining example of what can happen in other parts of the city.”

“The investment market in early 2019 is slowly but surely starting to pick up with a number of assets coming to the market. We are now marketing a number of investment properties which we expect will generate strong interest from local investors.”

Mark Riddell, Director of Property Consultancy, Riddell McKibben, represented the undisclosed buyer in the deal.

Hospitality Ulster has met with NI Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State calling on them to intervene on knee jerk ‘Special Event’ consultation by Department for Communities

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster

Hospitality Ulster has met with NI Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State calling on them to intervene on knee jerk ‘Special Event’ consultation by Department for Communities and to address overall outdated liquor licensing laws.

Hospitality Ulster has met separately with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Karen Bradley MP and the Shadow NI Secretary of State Tony Lloyd MP this afternoon at Westminster calling on them to urgently intervene on Northern Ireland’s outdated liquor licensing legislation.

The meetings took place after huge concerns were raised by the hospitality sector and major representative bodies in Northern Ireland who were left flabbergasted that the Department for Communities launched a consultation to make a small tweak in legislation, largely to benefit the company running the hospitality services at the forthcoming British Open in July.

Hospitality Ulster has led the charge to convince elected representative to overhaul the outdated liquor legislation to benefit the sector, enhance the visitor and tourist experience and the wider economy. Whilst there has been significant backing for the changes, little action has been under taken after the collapse of the Assembly.

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster commented after the meetings:

“Whilst we welcome the fact that the Open is coming to Northern Ireland, we need to look at the whole picture and not just pander to the company running the event because they want to sell more drink outside of the current permitted hours.”

“We made it very clear to the Secretary of State and the Shadow Secretary of State that this small change does absolutely nothing for local pubs and restaurants who will be missing out on the revenue. Once The Open packs up, the hospitality sector will be left to operate with the same outdated laws that it has struggled with for years.”

“Just because the big boys roll into town and complains, our civil servants are bending over backwards to rush through legislation even though there is an entire Bill sitting on the shelf ready to go that will address many, if not all of these issues. They need to listen to the rate paying businesses here”

“If this element of the legislation can be changed on a whim, then the wider issues can be dealt with. It couldn’t be more obvious.”

“If this consultation progresses in isolation of wider reform it will be regarded as favouritism towards companies outside Northern Ireland and not looking after the people and businesses the politicians are here to represent.”

Brown O'Connor Communications One Page Brief: Sinn Fein Local Council Manifesto - April 2019

On 15 April, Sinn Féin launched their manifesto for the upcoming 2019 local government elections at an event in Ballymena. Below are some of the key policies from that manifesto:


Councils must promote social value in the procurement process.

Resource locally based tourism projects, which can help boost the hospitality industry.

Support City Deals in Belfast and the North West.

All councils should have clearly mapped out regeneration plans specific to their area.

Agree a new partnership between Executive Departments and local government to share financial obligations of regeneration more equally.


All councils should pay at least the living wage of £9 per hour.

Every household should enjoy at least 10mbps broadband.

Continue to oppose changes to Sunday opening hours.


An increase in social housing.

The NIHE must review the method of calculating how many new homes are needed each year.

Every development must include a percentage of social and affordable housing.

Rights and Legacy

A citizen’s charter in every council, much like the Belfast City Council 2018 Mayor’s Charter.

An Irish language policy and Irish language officer in every council.

Introduction of the legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement.

Cross-border cooperation

Campaign for a Unity Referendum in the near future.

Work to increase cross-border cooperation on education, health and the economy.

Lobby for a 2019 referendum to allow Irish citizens outside the Republic of Ireland to vote in Presidential elections.

Click here to read the full manifesto.