Emergency Meeting at Stormont on Crisis in Community Pharmacy

Elected representatives, concerned patient groups and representatives of local community pharmacy gathered at the Long Gallery at Stormont yesterday for an emergency meeting to address the deepening crisis in community pharmacy here.

 Paula Bradshaw MLA 

Paula Bradshaw MLA 

The response has been triggered after a survey was published last week on the critical impact of escalating financial pressures on local community pharmacists and the impact that the knock-on effects will have on patients.

The survey showed that as many as 87% of local community pharmacists surveyed expressed that they were ‘very worried about their own businesses’ with 81% stating that the ‘current funding situation is having an impact on their own health and wellbeing’.

 Robbie Butler MLA 

Robbie Butler MLA 

But it is patients who are expected to feel the impact most severely says the Chief Executive of the representative body, Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene.

Speaking at the emergency meeting in Stormont, Gerard Greene commented:

“There is a real threat that the continued under funding by the Department of Health will result in pharmacies closing.”

“The frontline services that community pharmacists provide are under attack and the prolonged government underfunding is putting huge financial strain on many, so much so that it is impacting on the health and well-being of community pharmacists across Northern Ireland. We are now in a dire situation and one which we are not prepared to sit back and accept.”

 Mervyn Storey MLA

Mervyn Storey MLA

“Our members have a responsibility to ensure that we help patients stay well and prevent illness wherever possible, but there is an unseen side to the profession that must be supported before there is any further impact.”

“The support that we have received from patients, patient groups and customers in the last days and weeks has been overwhelming, which shows the reliance that many have on their local community pharmacy.”

“Due to this current situation we have no option but to speak out, and we must stand up and fight for our patients and demand that action be taken by the Department of Health to protect the vital patient services provided in community pharmacies.”

Prior to the collapse of the NI Assembly, the last Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, outlined a commitment to continue to develop and resource community pharmacy-based initiatives over the next 10 years. However, this is now in jeopardy due to the fact that the Department of Health is under funding the cost of providing community pharmacy services by at least £20m.

 Emma Rogan MLA 

Emma Rogan MLA 

This funding shortfall has been compounded in recent months by unprecedented generic medicines shortages leaving community pharmacists and their staff with a daily struggle to find many of the medicines needed by their patients. When they do source the items required, they can find themselves paying more than ten times the usual price, all without knowing if they will be fully reimbursed.

 Mark H Durkan MLA 

Mark H Durkan MLA 

Community pharmacies in Northern Ireland are currently under sustained attack due to:

  • Prolonged Government underfunding;
  • Additional funding cuts made in 2017/18;
  • Funding model which sees many medicines dispensed at a loss;
  • Medicine shortages;
  • Rising demand;
  • Workforce crisis;
  • Rising incidence of violent crime.

Greater investment needed for brain injury rehab for young people at risk of offending says Brain Injury Charity Chief

Brain injury charity chief says greater investment in rehabilitation needed for young people at risk of offending and young offenders to reduce future criminality, social exclusion and mental health difficulties.

The Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, Fiona McCabe, has called for greater investment in Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) rehabilitation and community support services for young people as a key way of reducing the risk of offending, social exclusion and mental health difficulties.

 Fiona McCabe, CEO of Brain Injury Matters 

Fiona McCabe, CEO of Brain Injury Matters 

The call comes at the start of Acquired Brain Injury Awareness Week which takes place from 14th– 20th May.

The charity says there is a developing body of global and local research that identifies a high rate of brain injury right across the criminal youth justice system.

Recent studies suggest between 50-70% of young offenders currently in the justice system have an identified ABI, but investment in dedicated multidisciplinary rehabilitation services for adolescents is non-existent.

Young people living with an ABI have a disability that is less visible, less understood, and so open to misinterpretation of the young person's needs. This may result in a loss of friends and reduced social networks, over reliance on family for social needs and generally lower social participation.

In general, the identification, appropriate assessment and setting out of a treatment pathway is paramount for adolescents with a traumatic brain injury from all backgrounds.

The evidence indicates that without appropriate support to meet the emotional and social needs of young people, problems will escalate. More complex issues are likely to develop such as the deterioration of mental health, behavioural problems and anti-social behaviour that will ultimately place extra burden on adult health and social services. This is due to the complex nature of brain injury which can result in impulsivity, challenges with problem solving or flexible thinking, reduced social skills and poor emotional understanding, among a wide range of other issues.

Fiona McCabe, Chief Executive, Brain Injury Matters:

“We are aware that there is an inextricable link between anti-social and offending behaviour in young people with a traumatic brain injury here in Northern Ireland.  The high incidence rate is worrying, and lack of any investment is failing our young people.”

“The complete lack of service provision for those young people both inside and outside the criminal justice system means we are missing opportunities to intervene early and avoid long term problems which ultimately results in a poorer quality of life for them.”

“Rehabilitation requires support and education of a wide range of people such as carers, family, friends as well as a whole range of professional support for those with an ABI to lead a fulfilled life in their own community.”

“Recently, Brain Injury Matters developed a programme called ‘Youth Matters’ as a direct response to prevent the onset of negative secondary issues for young people with an acquired brain injury. The demand for this has been very high and proves that there has been a complete lack of attention towards this high-risk group.”

“This one to one and group-based support programme for young people (13-18 years old) across Northern Ireland aims to help young people achieve self-identified goals, promote age appropriate independence, maximise social and educational engagement, promote psychological adjustment post-ABI and improve overall well-being.”

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Academic Dr Mark Linden from The Queen’s University of Belfast said:

“The research that we carried out showed that the majority (87%) of young male offenders in NI have had some degree of brain injury.”

“These injuries have occurred during childhood or adolescence which are critical periods for brain development. As such, many of these young men fail to fully develop regions of the brain called the frontal lobes which govern aspects of behaviour such as planning, understanding the consequences of their actions and the regulation of behaviour.”

“Our work has also shown that many young men were never told they had received a brain injury and were not aware of the consequences of this on their behaviour. Instead they may have been informed that they had a concussion (classed as a mild brain injury), the seriousness of which was down played. It is increasingly recognised that mild brain injuries make up the majority of cases and that they can have significant and long-lasting consequences. Approximately 66% of young offenders in our research sample had more than three injuries with many having more than six.”

“This work highlights the importance of proper screening and monitoring of young offenders as they enter the Criminal Justice System (CJS) so that targeted rehabilitation strategies may be put in place to better support their needs. It further suggests the need to better educate professionals working within the CJS to provide context to sentencing decisions and understanding of the needs of young men with brain injuries.”


Cross-Party health group calls for urgent support for Community Pharmacy

The Health spokespeople from each of the main political parties have expressed concern about the current funding crisis in community pharmacy in Northern Ireland which may lead to some pharmacists having to close their doors for good. 

In a letter co-signed by five Health spokespeople directed to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, they state that despite several investigations outlining the cost of service, there remains an identified shortfall in excess of £20 million in funding needed to run community pharmacy effectively. This was independently outlined in a Cost of Service Investigation carried out by PwC and published by the Department 6 months ago (November 2017).

 SDLP's Mark H Durkan MLA: One of five elected reps who has signed letter calling for support from Department of Health. 

SDLP's Mark H Durkan MLA: One of five elected reps who has signed letter calling for support from Department of Health. 

The cross-party support for community pharmacy comes at a time when the representative body Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland has called for the Department to meet to resolve a number of pressures. The organisation which represents over 530 pharmacies has received universal backing in its assertion that an enhanced role for community pharmacies could shift many of the bottlenecks and pressure points elsewhere in primary health care.  

The group of Health spokespeople have called on the Department of Health to:

  • Open further discussions with the representative body Community Pharmacy NI;
  • Urgently introduce an interim rescue package;
  • Reintroduce proprietary mitigation to address the issue of ‘dispensing at a loss’;
  • Ensuring sufficient funding is maintained in rural areas;
  • Deliver a new community pharmacy contract as a matter of urgency.

Health Committee Chair in the previous Assembly, Paula Bradley MLA said:

“We understand that the health service is under severe pressure, but we desperately need the clinical skills and community support provided by our pharmacies.” 

“Community pharmacists across Northern Ireland are not only calling for a new contract to be brought forward; but that funding is maintained in rural areas; dispensing medicine at a loss is addressed; and an interim rescue package is forthcoming to plug visible gaps.”

 Paula Bradley MLA 

Paula Bradley MLA 

“We as a group of health focussed MLAs have been approached by a number of local pharmacy owners that they may have to close their doors as a direct result of the decision taken by the Department of Health. That is simply unacceptable for such a critical service.”

“We need, in the absence of the Assembly and a Minister in place, for the Permanent Secretary to give these issues his urgent attention.”

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:

“Community pharmacies have a vital role in delivering community-based healthcare services and the promotion of well-being, with around 123,000 people visiting a community pharmacy every day.

“It is often the first point of contact for people to the health service and it is also the last point of contact for those receiving prescribed medication.

“We welcome the support from the main parties on the current issues facing community pharmacy and their call for the Department of Health to act to immediately stabilise the network here.

 Community Pharmacy seeks urgent support: Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI. 

Community Pharmacy seeks urgent support: Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI. 

“The healthcare system needs radical change and key to this is giving community pharmacy a more proactive role in public health and in the prevention and management of long term conditions.

“Scotland and Wales provide us with excellent examples of what this change looks like and the impact it can have on improving patient outcomes, shifting demand and delivering efficiencies.

“Through better understanding of its services, greater recognition of its value and with a flagship role at the heart of public health, our vital place-based network of community pharmacies can play a significant role in solving the crisis facing us.

“The intervention from this group of MLAs hasn’t come a moment too soon as the policy divergence between what has been agreed in terms of financial support and what is being realised is substantially different and simply can’t continue in this way.”

“This call from our elected representatives is vital in terms of ensuring that community pharmacy is recognised as a health service priority and resourced accordingly before it is too late.”

18th Belfast Film Festival Launched

The 2018 Belfast Film Festival is set to host 118 premieres out of 178 films ranging from features to short films to Virtual Reality (VR) titles drawn from 30 countries around the world. 

 Chair of the Belfast Film Festival, Mark Cousins, with Director, Michele Devlin launch the 2018 Belfast Film Festival.  The 2018 Belfast Film Festival is set to host 118 premieres out of 178 films ranging from features to short films to Virtual Reality (VR) titles drawn from 30 countries around the world. 

Chair of the Belfast Film Festival, Mark Cousins, with Director, Michele Devlin launch the 2018 Belfast Film Festival.  The 2018 Belfast Film Festival is set to host 118 premieres out of 178 films ranging from features to short films to Virtual Reality (VR) titles drawn from 30 countries around the world. 

The festival, which takes place across 22 locations in Belfast, will also see a number of special events including in-depth Q&As with well-known Father Ted writer, Graham Linehan and Director Ken Loach who is set to receive the Réalta award for outstanding contribution to cinema.

The festival kicks off on 12th April with the Lance Daly directed film ‘BLACK 47’ as the opening gala and continues through to 21st April.

Mark Cousins, Chair of the Belfast Film Festival said:

“We are thrilled to be launching the 2018 film festival with a whole host of great films, documentaries and shorts. Our festival is one of the boldest and most distinctive and this year we have curated a programme that shows how passionate we are about film and the people who make them and feature in them.”

“As the new Chair of the film festival I have great ambition for it. We want to take it out to more people and make it accessible for everyone to spark an interest they may not know they had. We have so much potential to raise the profile locally and internationally and with energy and the right strategy, we can do it.”

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“BFF18 brings an entire showcase of 178 features, short films and VR titles, applauding innovation and exciting work from 30 countries around the world.”

“As part of the festival we are absolutely thrilled to welcome Ken Loach to Belfast, to screen a selection of his film and TV work and present him with our award for his Outstanding Contribution to Cinema.”

Top 5 Picks of the 2018 Belfast Film Festival Programme

12 April Opening Night Gala - ‘BLACK 47’ – Directed by Lance Daly

17 April Belfast Film Festival to welcome Ken Loach to Northern Ireland to receive the Réalta award for outstanding contribution to cinema. Ken will take part in a special Q&A.

18 April The festival will welcome BAFTA and Emmy winner Graham Linehan, co-writer of Father Ted and Black Books and writer and director of the IT Crowd who will take part in a special Q&A

18 April  ‘THE BREADWINNER’ - Directed by Nora Twomey (Parvana is an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy in order to support her family. Working alongside her friend Shauzia, Parvana discovers a new world of freedom and danger).

21 April Closing Night Gala - ‘THE DIG’ – Directed by Ryan and Andrew Tohill

More than 20 films at this year’s Belfast Film Festival will have a ‘F’ rating which identifies if a film is directed, written or produced by a female or has a strong female lead or storyline.

The response comes off the back of the recent global movement to change the culture of how women are treated in the film industry and how they are represented on-screen.

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Michele Devlin, Director of the Belfast Film Festival added:

“This year in the film industry there has been an upsurge of activism as a loud response to systemic sexual exploitation, race and class discrimination.”

“We work hard to make sure that our festival continually reflects the changes that are happening in the global film industry and society. As a festival, we want to make sure that we give everyone a voice and a platform.”

“This year we have introduced the ‘F’ rating throughout the programme which shines a spotlight on the role of women in film production. By doing this we want to make sure that we play our part in giving the overall campaign the attention it deserves.”

Festival Pass and Tickets can be purchased at: www.belfastfilmfestival.org

BREXIT AND THE BORDER - Institution of Engineering & Technology Policy Event, Wednesday 21 March, Belfast

The Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) is to host a bespoke workshop by the Engineering Policy Northern Ireland Group in conjunction with Manufacturing NI for those working in Engineering, Technology, IT and Manufacturing on BREXIT AND THE BORDER.

Hosted by Jamie Delargy 


Speakers Include: Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, Dr Katy Hayward, Queen’s University; Dr Eoin Magennis from Ulster University and Allie Renison, the Head of Europe and Trade Policy at IoD

 Speaker: Allie Renison, Head of Europe and Trade Policy at IoD

Speaker: Allie Renison, Head of Europe and Trade Policy at IoD

Date: Wednesday, 21 March 

Time: Registration from 8.30am

Venue: Titanic Hotel, Belfast 


Event Overview 

Nearly two years after the referendum vote, the clarity which business needs in relation to Brexit is still lacking.  To proceed with any future planning or investment, everyone needs to know at least an outline of what the likely new regime will be.

This is particularly true in Northern Ireland which, when the UK leaves the EU after March 2019, will have the only land border with an EU state. The decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union will profoundly affect the Northern Ireland economy and every business decision ranging from energy costs through to data transfer will be shaped by policies adopted in the next few months.

With the December 2017 “divorce” agreement between the UK and the EU widely recognised as a fudge - what do the engineering, technology and manufacturing sectors in Northern Ireland need from Brexit?  What effect will Brexit have on border communities and how might a future border operate in practice?

At this event, engineers and technologists from many different organisations, together with those involved manufacturing ranging from agri-processing to aero-space will consider both the context of what is currently happening and also look at some future scenarios. 

RCSLT Calls for a 'Communication Lifeline' for stroke survivors

Survey results launched today reveal that 90% of stroke survivors believe that communication difficulties following their stroke have impacted hugely on their lives and that less people are now receiving speech and language therapy after a stroke, than in 2008.

The figures were revealed at a seminar on ‘Reshaping Stroke Services’ which was hosted by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and The Stroke Association. An analysis of the survey was carried out by Ulster University and the results were presented to delegates today.

 Speech & Language Therapist Jennifer Handforth at the RSCLT event in Belfast 

Speech & Language Therapist Jennifer Handforth at the RSCLT event in Belfast 

One third of people already receiving services also believed that they should receive more speech and language therapy to help them overcome the traumatic experience of losing the most basic skills of swallowing and speaking.

Alison McCullough MBE, RCSLT Head of Northern Ireland Office said:

“This survey once again demonstrates how crucial speech and language therapy is in supporting the recovery and rehabilitation of stroke survivors who may be having difficulty communicating or swallowing. It is worrying to see that some stroke survivors are still not receiving the amount of therapy that they need, with some saying they are not receiving any provision at all.

“We are calling for a Communication Lifeline to form a core part of stroke aftercare to ensure that stroke survivors have their communication assessed within 72 hours so that they can be given a means of communicating even at a basic level. We would also urge commissioners to ensure that the provision of specialist speech and language therapy is available throughout Northern Ireland.


Barry Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association said:

“Stroke survivors tell us time and again how important speech and language therapy is to their recovery. The inability to communicate basic needs can be terrifying for survivors and it is essential that speech and language therapy commences in the immediate aftermath of a stroke and continues to be provided in the community on a longer-term basis to enable greater independence and well-being.                       

“This improves positive outcomes and empowers stroke survivors to communicate their most basic needs to carers and close family members right from the beginning."

“We support RCSLT’s call for a Communication Lifeline as this would ensure a uniform approach to stroke care across Northern Ireland.”


Mental health in the workplace - Employers Responsibility, by Lisa Bryson, Head of Employment Practice, Eversheds Sutherland, Belfast

Mental health is fast becoming a hot topic in the workplace. It is rarely out of the media, reflecting campaigns by health trusts, charities, even celebrities and the Royal Family.  Recent research undertaken by 'Business in the Community' has highlighted that one in four adults currently working in Northern Ireland have been diagnosed with some form of mental health disorder. 

 Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast 

Lisa Bryson, Eversheds Sutherland Belfast 

According to mental health charities, these statistics do not necessarily reflect an increase in mental health problems. For example, perhaps more people are now willing to disclose such problems as attitudes change for the better. Whatever the reasons behind this trend, employers are increasingly under pressure to better manage and support mental health at work, but some are feeling ill-equipped to do so.

While managing mental health at work can be challenging, there are positive wellbeing and economic reasons for acting. These include reduced staff turnover, reduction in accidents and absence, increased morale, engagement and employer reputation.  In addition, research shows that some mental health problems are directly or partly caused by work. As a result, many employers already accept that their role goes beyond a reactive, medical response and includes proactive organisational as well as cultural measures.

The Stevenson/Farmer review, published at the end of 2017, included 40 recommendations directed at employers, government and other organisations.  The recommendations include the promotion of a set of ‘mental health core standards’ that all employers should adopt, with enhanced standards for large employers and employers in the public sector.  

The Stevenson/Farmer review core standard recommendations suggest that all employers can and should:

1.Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that promotes good mental health of all employees and outlines the support available for those who may need it.

2.Develop mental health awareness among employees by making information, tools and support accessible.

3.Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling.

4.Provide good working conditions and ensure employees have a healthy work life balance and opportunities for development.

5.Promote effective people management to ensure all employees have a regular conversation about their health and well-being with their line manager, supervisor or organisational leader and train and support line managers and supervisors in effective management practices.

6.Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing by understanding available data, talking to employees, and understanding risk factors.

Recognising that some employers feel ill equipped to manage mental health issues, the review recommends that Government should set up a mental health online information portal to promote best practice. It also notes that employers need to recognise that their role goes beyond what happens in the workplace, not least because technology and other factors increasingly blur the line between work and home life, but also because employers can play a significant role in supporting employees through major life events like bereavement, debt, and relationship breakdown, which can cause or exacerbate mental health conditions.

The Government has said it will respond to the recommendations in due course. Although new legislation is unlikely in the short term due to the present political climate, it is a possibility later down the line. Employers may find the recommendations of the Stevenson/Farmer review of interest now as they consider their own individual approach to this issue.

NI Trade Credit Insurance Chief says market insight points to further insolvencies

The head of Credit Insurance specialists, Trade Credit Brokers has warned that market intelligence on several sectors could spell out more catastrophic failure for a variety of Northern Ireland companies.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risks, Trade Credit Brokers, has said that the unwelcome news won’t stop at McMullen Facades Ltd, Carillion, Williams Industrial Services, and Schlumberger. He expects more could follow, particularly in the construction and retail sectors. 

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As a specialist credit insurer, Trade Credit Brokers keeps a watching brief on companies and their creditworthiness and are often the first armed with the market intelligence that can signal that an organisation is in trouble.

This comes at the time when the Association of British Insurers have claimed in recent weeks that insolvency rates have hit their highest level since 2013, stating that there were 300 insolvencies a week in 2017 in the UK.

Nigel Birney, Head of Trade Credit and Political Risks, Trade Credit Brokers commented:

“The market intelligence that we are seeing shows that there are many companies out there who are on the brink of failure and are very exposed particularly in the construction and retails sectors.”

“Underwriters are telling us that they are facing a big challenge not to withdraw their support in some sectors, which indicates that there will be more insolvencies in the early part of this year.”

“The unfortunate example of the likes of McMullen Facades Ltd, Carillion, Williams Industrial Services, and Schlumberger and the potentially catastrophic impact that it will most likely have on their supply chains, shows just how exposed these businesses were without appropriate credit insurance cover in place.”

“This is a big lesson to many businesses out there who think that they could never be affected by a situation like this. These very public examples should encourage those without cover, that financial protection against an unforeseen and potentially catastrophic impact of a bad debt is vital in these challenging times, for many businesses, as they try to manage their credit risk ”.

“We encourage anyone who wants to see out any credit risk pressures that they might be under to make sure that they speak with a specialist credit insurance intermediary before it’s too late.”  



The Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland has officially launched the EU PEACE IV funded programme, Shared Spaces and Services – Victims and Survivors 2017-21.

This is a project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

The aim of the programme is to improve the health and wellbeing of victims and survivors and will target hard to reach and marginalised individuals and communities that have suffered as a result of the Troubles/Conflict.

Since the programme commenced, VSS has developed a network of health and well-being caseworkers and advocacy support workers based within our community and voluntary partners across the region, who support victims in their local communities and deliver services and support where it is needed.

The VSS previously opened a call for applications under the Victim Support Programme and PEACE IV in November 2016. 55 organisations were successful in securing funding and this allowed for the establishment of a network of Health and Wellbeing Caseworkers and an Advocacy Support Programme in addition to the development of a number of new and innovative resilience initiatives.

Chief Executive of the VSS, Margaret Bateson said:

“We are pleased to formally launch the PEACE IV Shared Spaces - Victims and Survivors programme today. The programme has been underway since 2017 and already a significant amount of work has been undertaken to adopt a new and innovative needs-based approach to delivering bespoke services that support the unique and individual needs of victims and survivors.

“The new programme will look at how victims and survivors can be supported through a range of services, with a specific focus on improving health and well-being.

“We know we still have lots to do but we are already seeing early indications that this new approach is working, and we are seeing some real changes to the lives of victims and survivors. 

“We encourage those who need support to come forward and contact us on 02890 279100 or one of our community partners http://www.victimsservice.org/find-support-in-your-area/..”

Speaking at the event Gina McIntyre, CEO of the SEUPB, said:

“The PEACE Programme since its inception in 1995, has provided support to the victims and survivors of the troubles and conflict. This has been an integral part of each PEACE programme and is reflective of a genuine desire to fund the important work required to help alleviate the suffering caused to citizens in this region. 

“The support that has been provided under the current PEACE IV Programme recognises that victims and survivors are an extremely diverse group with very unique and complex needs. This funding support being announced today will be used to develop a number of important new services that will improve their health and well-being including a resilience building and advocacy support programme,” she continued.

NILGA host Business Breakfast on the Economy and Local Government


Last Friday at The MAC, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) hosted a business breakfast entitled ‘driving the economy forward through our local councils’.

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A presentation was given by leading economist Dr Peter Kenway from the New Policy Institute with debate from panellists including Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA, Dr Theresa Donaldson, Chief Executive of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council and Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council. The event was hosted by broadcaster, Mark Carruthers.

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