Local government is ready and willing

Northern Ireland’s political and public services landscape is vastly different to other parts of the UK and Ireland. Of the £21 billion it costs to “run” Northern Ireland each year, less than £1 billion of that (just over 4%) rests with the 11 councils. Elsewhere, it’s about 24%.

NILGA asserts that a review is required, challenging public perceptions and government thinking to transform what we do, not just administer and carry on as we are. During the last two years of political limbo, councils have been the only fully functioning level of government and have continually stepped up to the plate, delivering vital public services, employment and investment and can do much more, including being a supply chain region for Heathrow Airport.

Local government contributes massively to developing and sustaining thousands of new jobs across Northern Ireland, creating taxes needed to sustain the public purse, including roads, education and health.

Derek McCallan is the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association

Derek McCallan is the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association

Sustainable development has a transformative effect on people and places. Councils are increasingly at the forefront of enterprise in Northern Ireland and it is councils who are best positioned to understand current need and future requirements in their areas. Places such as Cornwall have been offered billions of pounds for city, devolution and growth funding through their local councils and this should be happening here.

Some people may say that councils aren’t fit for such things, but they are dynamic hubs and have the ability to be innovative and accountable. Local government is ready and willing, but the resources must be provided to match expectations.

We should not enter another council term without planning to change. Let’s change the record. Let’s negotiate, with robust evidence, a better way to be public servants, from the bottom up, with sustainable community wealth and health being the outcomes. Let’s place greater focus on the layer of government that provides solutions – local authorities.

This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 12 February 2019.

May elections - give councils the power to change Northern Ireland

Councils with more resources and powers can bring a stronger economy and greater local democracy to NI

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) has called for Government to wake up to the facts that local people and local councils possess the entrepreneurial ability and solutions we need to address our economic, social and legislative deficits.

NILGA seeks three immediate and linked actions after the May 2019 elections.

  • Firstly, that the role of councils is formally reviewed and strengthened, giving greater decision taking powers to local people and places.

  • Secondly, that in keeping with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Westminster report on devolution here, at the end of 2018, an independent panel is set up to take forward how devolution is progressed and funded below Stormont, to councils and communities.

  • Thirdly, that a Brexit Support Fund, offered to all councils in England, Scotland and Wales, to the tune of over £60 million to date, is provided to all 11 councils here.

Last week a cross party delegation from NILGA met with John Penrose MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland.

Last week a cross party delegation from NILGA met with John Penrose MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland.

NILGA’s cross party, all council team has in recent days met with John Penrose MP, Minister of State in for Northern Ireland, in order to look at how councils’ additional pressures to deliver are funded, as well as forward planning how Northern Ireland’s £21 billion public purse is given local, democratic scrutiny until the Assembly returns.

Councillor Dermot Curran, President of  NILGA said:

Councillor Dermot Curran, President of NILGA

Councillor Dermot Curran, President of NILGA

“Councils in 2019 are faced with huge expectations on their time and expenditure, in part due to the suspension of the Assembly, Brexit, transfer of responsibilities like event traffic management – costing around £900,000 this year alone to ratepayers – without being offered budgets to deliver.

“Similarly, senior management teams in councils are meeting weekly to determine how they can respond to diverse performance management demands of many Government Departments, despite calling for a Single Performance Framework where all public bodies work to national goals and standards. All 11 councils in Northern Ireland take performance management extremely seriously but seek to operate in a citizen driven performance regime, aligned to Scotland and Wales.

“During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work. Coupled with the burden of meeting arbitrary targets, councils, the smallest part of the public sector, are being asked to take on more responsibility as the only functioning level of government in Northern Ireland, without the offer of additional resources required.”

 With support from elected members and Chief Executives across the councils in Northern Ireland, who are deeply concerned about their ability to deliver against these often outmoded targets, sparse funding and unrealistic expectations and with a new four year electoral term commencing in just ten weeks’ time, NILGA is calling for:

  • An immediate review of this and other legislative matters, including implementing a new Code of Conduct;

  • A more effective and equitable rating system and;

  • Clear guidance on standing orders of councils.

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA commented:

“For well over two years, the 11 councils here have been the only fully functioning democratically elected government in Northern Ireland. Despite not being granted any additional powers or proper resources, in that period, they are under increasing pressure to deliver more.

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA

Derek McCallan, Chief Executive of NILGA

“Due to the current situation, members and Chief Executives across the 11 councils are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to deliver on these targets, with the threat of tick box bureaucracy in the background. Enough is enough.

“This is why NILGA is calling for devolved political scrutiny of how we as councils are funded, what the deficits are, and enabling a piece of legislation to get us on a proper democratic and value for money footing. These aren’t political or ideological matters, so we can get them sorted. Local government elections take place in a matter of weeks and councils should not have to enter a new mandate over-burdened and under-resourced, trying diligently to deliver on many more expectations from a deserving public.

“This is a reality check and a plea for normality. When our counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland are allocated over £60 million in Brexit support, and we are offered an empty purse and a wish list, it’s time to wise up and give councils and communities the tools and the autonomy to get on with it.

“Local government is a resilient, democratic anchor in Northern Ireland, but cannot be expected to bare burdens which are sent to us without cash and in a manner which is neither efficient nor necessary. Let’s use these elections to give choice, voice and control to communities, through councils.”

Combat stigma around HIV to encourage good sexual health, says HIV charity chief

Combatting the stigma around HIV is vital to promoting good sexual health in Northern Ireland, the head of a leading charity has said.

Marking the beginning of sexual health week in Northern Ireland (Monday 11 to Sunday 17 February), Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive of Positive Life NI, said that negative attitudes towards HIV, and those living with it, was discouraging people from talking about how to look after their sexual health and getting tested if they were at risk.

There are over 1000 people living with HIV in Northern Ireland but the charity estimates that there are also 200+ people are living unaware they are HIV positive here. One of the primary reasons many of these people do not come forward for testing or have sat on reactive tests at home, is because of the prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse experienced by those living with HIV in Northern Ireland.

Chief Executive of Positive Life NI, Jacquie Richardson.

Chief Executive of Positive Life NI, Jacquie Richardson.

The charity is also concerned that many long-standing, pervasive misconceptions around HIV, means that people are putting themselves at risk without being aware of it.

Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive of Positive Life NI said:

“If we’re going to encourage people to get tested, if we want to encourage people to take ownership and control of their sexual health, then we really need to combat the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV.”

 “We are aware that many people have shunned getting tested for HIV due to the stigma that surrounds even going to the likes of the GUM clinic to get checked. We have to be more open and accepting of our own sexual health and the sexual health of those around us, otherwise we are creating a situation where hundreds of people are unaware that they are living with HIV, and not accessing services.”

 “I deal with people every day who are living with HIV and it’s important for people to understand it’s no longer the death sentence it once was in the 1980’s. It’s a lifelong condition but a perfectly manageable one.”

“It’s also important that we widen sex education to challenge a lot of myths around sexual health. What we see now is people coming out of long-term relationships in their 40’s and 50’s with very little in terms of sex education who don’t have the knowledge they need to take ownership of their sexual health.”

 “In Northern Ireland we really struggle to talk openly about sex and sexual health. There is a culture of embarrassment and shame about it and it’s something we have to combat. Burying our heads in the sand simply doesn’t work.”

“Sexual health week is an important opportunity for us to have these open and honest conversations. It’s time to stop letting embarrassment and stigma prevent us from taking care of our own sexual health.”

Belfast Film Festival announces new all-Ireland documentary film festival

Belfast Film Festival has announced a brand new annual festival, ‘Doc Fest Ireland’ which will take place in Belfast from Wednesday 12th June – Sunday 16th June this year.

 Doc Fest Ireland will showcase only documentary films, presenting new Irish and international feature length and short documentaries.

 The festival will provide a platform to showcase the Irish documentary filmmaking industry, promoting a dynamic programme of events that are both entertaining and provocative.

The last five years have seen a surge in highly acclaimed feature-length documentaries from the island of Ireland, with many securing theatrical releases.

 Hard-hitting post-conflict legacy films such as Sinead O’Shea’s A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot, and Belfast-based Sean Murray’s Unquiet Graves are making waves in the industry.

 Belfast based Fine Point Films filmography includes Emmy-nominated Elián, Alex Gibney’s No Stone Unturned and Bobby Sands: 66 Days, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

 The success of Belfast Film Festival’s sold-out pilot Irish Documentary Festival in 2018 (Pull Focus) highlights the strong interest in documentary film and the need for film festivals on the island of Ireland that focus on this type of film.

 Doc Fest Ireland will also host a series of industry events, master classes, pitching sessions and information sessions for new and emerging filmmakers including the BFI/Doc Society New and Emerging Talent Day.

 The festival is now seeking submissions for Doc Market, an opportunity for filmmakers to meet with industry professionals including international funders, broadcasters, distributors and exhibitors from across the UK, ROI, US and EU. Companies such as Irish Channel TG4 and flagship BBC documentary strand Storyville will be in attendance.

Chair of Belfast Film Festival Mark Cousins, and Director Michele Devlin launch Doc Fest Ireland, an exciting new documentary film festival.

Chair of Belfast Film Festival Mark Cousins, and Director Michele Devlin launch Doc Fest Ireland, an exciting new documentary film festival.

 Doc Market will be a hub for funding, sales and distribution of Irish and international documentaries and a place where local talent can continue to thrive. Find out more about Doc Market here: https://belfastfilmfestival.org/doc-fest-ireland/doc-market  

The festival will present awards for:

  • Best International Documentary

  • Best Irish Feature Documentary (The Pull Focus Award)

  • Best Irish Short Documentary

  • Best Observational Documentary (Maysles Brothers Award)

  • Outstanding Contribution to Documentary Film Award.

 More information and application guidelines can be found here: https://filmfreeway.com/DocFestIreland

Chair of Doc Fest Ireland and internationally renowned documentary filmmaker Mark Cousins, said:

 “Belfast is one of the most interesting cities in the world. It’s a city in transition and undergoing rapid social change. It is a fascinating place to take the temperature of the UK and Ireland. Add in the fact that the team behind Doc Fest Ireland is passionate and experienced, and that Ireland has a great tradition of documentary film, and it’s hard to think of a better place to launch a dynamic new documentary festival”.

 Doc Fest Ireland’s principal funder is Northern Ireland Screen with additional funding from Belfast City Council, BFI, Tourism Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland, Ulster University, Queen’s University, Community Relations Council, British Council and Department for Communities.  

Leading brain injury charity appoints new Chief Executive

Joe McVey has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, the leading brain injury charity in Northern Ireland.

Joe has worked extensively in regeneration and development, as well as in local government and the public and voluntary sectors. He has a wealth of experience in strategic planning, governance and organisational development.

New Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, Joe McVey.

New Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, Joe McVey.

In 2010 Joe was awarded an OBE for services to the voluntary sector and in 2015 he was appointed to serve as a Commissioner with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Brain Injury Matters supports children, adults and families affected by acquired brain injury and works closely with them to enhance and rebuild their lives.

In 2018 alone, Brain Injury Matters reached over 400 individuals and family members affected by brain injury in Northern Ireland. They provide rehabilitation services to ensure that both individuals and their families are supported and empowered.

Their services are delivered by a combination of professional clinicians and staff with knowledge of acquired brain injury and include community-based programmes across Northern Ireland, involving one to one and group interventions as well as family centred-support.

Gordon Gough, Chair of Brain Injury Matters said:

“We are thrilled to have appointed Joe to lead the team at Brain Injury Matters. Joe brings with him a wealth of knowledge and expertise and has an excellent standing in both the private and voluntary sectors.”

“Joe has an impressive track record and we know that he has the vision and determination to help Brain Injury Matters grow and place the needs of those impacted by acquired brain injury at the centre of everything he does.”

“On behalf of the Board, I would like to express my gratitude to Fiona McCabe, who was the Chief Executive of Brian Injury Matters for eight years. Her dedication and contribution to Brain Injury Matters during that time was next to none and she worked to ensure that no-one affected by acquired brain injury in Northern Ireland was left behind.”

New Chief Executive at Brain Injury Matters, Joe McVey said:

“It is an honour to be appointed as the new Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters.”

“An acquired brain injury is often an invisible disability, but one which impacts upon every aspect of a person’s life. This is why early intervention and access to rehabilitation is crucial.”

“As Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, I am determined to ensure that every person living with an acquired brain injury in Northern Ireland is supported to rebuild their lives as soon as possible following their injury and is given the help and support that they require.”

“I am looking forward to working with the exemplary team at Brain Injury Matters as we seek to raise awareness and bring the issue of acquired brain injury into sharper focus as well as providing first-class services and support to all users.”

“I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Fiona McCabe. During her time as Chief Executive, Fiona worked tirelessly to ensure that service users were helped, supported and inspired during their journey with an acquired brain injury.”

Brown O'Connor Communications Political and Business Diary Feb - April 2019

PEYE 270217KB3  0234A.JPG


4 February, Belfast City Council meeting

5 February, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce Belfast Business Forum

5 February, Business First Network: The Brexit Survival Guide for Business

7 February, Queen’s University Belfast Breakfast Lecture with Martin Taylor, member of The Bank of England Financial Policy Committee

7 February, IoD NI Annual Dinner 2019

7 February, NICVA Social Media for Impact Training

7 February, Charity Retail Association Network Meeting

8 February, Business Breakfast with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP & Alan Bridle, UK Economist with Bank of Ireland

9 February, Special SDLP conference to ratify arrangement with Fianna Fail

9 February, Green Party NI Conference

12 February, Irish Renewable Energy Summit 2019, Croke Park Dublin

12 February, Live Here Love Here Community Awards 2019

13 February, The Northern Ireland Manufacturing and Supply Chain Conference and Exhibition

13 February, The Law Society of Ireland, Legal Disruption conference 2019, Dublin

14 February, House of Commons in recess

14 February, Getting to know NI Chamber

14 February, Londonderry Chamber: Meet the President

15 February, NI Chamber, VIP Business Breakfast with Minister Richard Bruton TD

15 February, Newry Chamber and Eversheds Sutherland Brexit Business Breakfast

19 February, The Economic Outlook with the Bank of England, Ulster University Belfast campus

19 February, NICVA Success in Funding Applications

21 February, Unquiet Graves Belfast Premiere

22 February, Closing date for NI Responsible Business Awards 2019

22 February, The Chartered Institute of Housing Awards

22 February, Londonderry Chamber Presidents Lunch

22 February, Chartered Accountants Ireland, Brexit, Resilience & Business Continuity in Uncertain Times

23 February, Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis

25 February, House of Commons returns from recess

27 February, Hospitality Ulster, Top 100 Hospitality Businesses Awards

28 February, Women in Planning Launch Event

28 February, NI Chamber, Danske Bank Export First Private Dinner

28 February, Arts and Business: Advanced Board Membership Course




1 March The Management & Leadership SuMMit 2019, Titanic Belfast

1 March, Alliance Party Pre-Conference Dinner, Stormont Hotel

2 March, Alliance Party Conference, Stormont Hotel

4 March, Belfast City Council meeting

6 March, NI Chamber Networking Series – Derry/Londonderry

7 March, InterTrade Ireland Venture Capital Conference 2019, Croke Park Dublin

7 March, FSB NI Celebrating Small Business Awards

7 March, CO3 Leadership Awards 2019

7 March, Chartered Accountants Ireland, Ulster Society Annual Dinner

8 March, IoD NI Women’s Leadership Conference

8 March, NI Chamber Energy Forum in partnership with SONI

8 March, Londonderry Chamber, Brexit Breakfast

14 March, Insider Northern Ireland Dealmakers Awards

14 March, NICVA Effective Lobbying and Campaigning Training

15 March, DANI Awards 2019

21 March, NICVA Managing the Media with Sarah Travers

25 – 31 March, Imagine Belfast Festival

27 March, NI Chamber, Danske Bank Export First Exporter Forum

27 March, Digital Government 2019: The Connected Citizen

28 March, Digital DNA Awards 2019

31 March, Nominations close for Northern Ireland 40under40 2019



3 April, Digital Energy Conference 2019, Mansion House Dublin

3 April, CBI MSB Network event

3 April, NI Chamber, Connecting for Growth Cross Border Networking

5 April, Queen’s University Belfast, Chamber Choir Concert

5 April, Northern Ireland Equality and Diversity Gala & Awards

8 April, Chartered Accountants Ireland, Ulster Society Annual Dinner

11 - 12 April, Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society conference 2019

17 April, IoD NI New Director Bootcamp

27 April, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

30 April, NI Chamber, International Trade Training


Eversheds Sutherland Belfast announce Lisa Bryson as new Partner

International law firm, Eversheds Sutherland has this week announced the appointment of Lisa Bryson as a new partner in its Belfast office. The announcement comes as the firm makes a total of three key partner appointments in Dublin and Belfast. Two of the partners will be based in the firm’s Dublin office and one (Lisa) in its Belfast office.

Lisa who currently heads up the Employment & Immigration practice in Northern Ireland is also part of the Eversheds Sutherland Brexit group based in Dublin providing expert legal advice and support to clients dealing with Brexit related issues by drawing on expertise from all of Eversheds 61 offices worldwide.

From left to right:  Lorcan Keenan, Partner, Pensions (Dublin), Lisa Bryson, Partner, Employment & Immigration (Belfast), Alan Murphy, Managing Partner Eversheds Sutherland, Enda Cullivan, Partner, Corporate & Commercial (Dublin)

From left to right: Lorcan Keenan, Partner, Pensions (Dublin), Lisa Bryson, Partner, Employment & Immigration (Belfast), Alan Murphy, Managing Partner Eversheds Sutherland, Enda Cullivan, Partner, Corporate & Commercial (Dublin)

A senior lawyer with over 15 years’ experience, Lisa has worked for Eversheds in Nottingham and London for over 10 years before returning to Northern Ireland in 2009, rejoining the company in 2017. 

A highly respected lawyer, she specialises in restructuring and TUPE work, major change programmes, executive matters including severances and employment related litigation in both the Tribunal and the High Court in Northern Ireland.

The promotion of Bryson marks a period of rapid expansion for the firm which opened its Belfast office in 2015 and now boasts 15 lawyers and 4 partners. The growth of the company, due to a demand for its services, will see the headcount reach 30 within the next 18 months.

Alan Murphy, Managing Partner at Eversheds Sutherland said:

“We are very pleased to welcome Lisa as the latest partner in our Belfast office. Her extensive experience in her field will further enhance our client offering and help us to grow our firm in 2019.”

“Brexit will of course pose major challenges for all of us over the coming few years and the demand for our services across the island is immense. Through our Dublin-based Brexit group which Lisa will contribute to, we are offering businesses a unique Brexit advisory and support service drawing on the expertise of our international colleagues and our multidisciplinary Belfast and Dublin-based teams.”

Survey of hospitality sector shows Christmas sales of food and drink up on last year.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill.

A survey of NI hospitality owners has shown an improvement on last year’s Christmas trading figures for many hospitality businesses. 

The survey was conducted by Hospitality Ulster of its members which includes pubs, restaurants and hotels across Northern Ireland.

More than 60% of businesses who responded reported an increase in beverage sales this year compared to the same period in 2017, with 29% of businesses showing an increase in sales of more than 10%.

In food sales, more than 51% of respondents reported an increase in 2018 Christmas trade, with 22% showing an increase of more than 10%.

However, the improvement was not the same for all businesses across the board and between 20-26% businesses also reported a decrease in food and beverage sales during the same period.

The survey was conducted by Hospitality Ulster in the first week of January 2019.

Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill commented:

“The figures in general are quite heartening after what has been quite a difficult year for business in Northern Ireland.

“The positive survey results demonstrate a clear resilience in the industry and a willingness to adapt and plan ahead with great offers of food, drink and entertainment put on over the festive season.

“I think the fact that trade was up for many members shows that people really do enjoy the experience of a night out. We are seeing a boom in craft products like gin and beer, where people enjoy sampling a wide range of different types of drinks. We have also seen a sharp increase in non-alcoholic spirits and beers. Customers are seeking the overall experience, rather than just the product.

“Food sales continue to grow and again that comes down to the wide and growing range on offer out there, right across Northern Ireland.

“It is worth noting however that this upturn hasn’t been the case across the board and there are still many business owners facing an uphill struggle, particularly as we enter what is to be a very precarious year for business in Northern Ireland.”

Keith and Kristyn Getty set to return for one off concert at SSE Arena

Award-winning Northern Ireland modern hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty, are returning to Belfast next year for a one-off concert in the SSE Arena.

Sing! Belfast will take place on 15 June 2019 and is part of a worldwide tour of major US and European cities. The Belfast date follows previously sold-out concerts in the Waterfront Hall in 2012 and 2016.

Gettys June announcement .jpg

The special night will feature a 1,000 voice choir in partnership with New Irish Arts and special guests.

Keith Getty, who was awarded an OBE last year, will together with Kristyn perform much of their best-known music, including ‘In Christ Alone’, which was the number one most-frequently-sung hymn in UK churches for a record-setting nine consecutive years.

The announcement of the concert in Belfast follows the Getty’s sold out 5th Annual Irish Christmas Concert of numerous concert halls including Carnegie Hall in New York this year.

During their time in Belfast in June 2019, Keith and Kristyn Getty, who are known globally for revolutionizing modern hymn development, will also host a conference focusing on equipping, educating and encouraging church leaders towards a deeper and more dynamic congregational worship.

This will focus on the teaching in Keith and Kristyn’s book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, which was published internationally last year and received critical acclaim.

Tickets for Sing! are now on sale and can be purchased via the SSE website.

Keith Getty said:

“It is always an honour to play for any audience, but there is something deeply special about coming back home. Northern Ireland is where we met and where we come back to every year. It has an important place in our lives and we cannot wait to play for a Northern Irish audience.

“Kristyn and I are both extremely fortunate to be able to travel the world and share our music and our passion with amazing audiences. Our last two concerts in Belfast were truly memorable evenings and we want to see even more people next year come together to sing their faith. 

Keith Kristyn at HP event.jpg

“The Conference, taking place the Friday before the concert, is designed to help church leaders and pastors develop a deeper and more dynamic view of theology, artistry and the importance of congregational singing. 

“The last 12 months have been particularly special for us and we are looking forward to what 2019 will bring and our return to Belfast is definitely part of that.”

Hospitality Ulster reacts to Home Office Immigration White Paper

Reacting to the White Paper published today by the Home Secretary on post-Brexit rules for migrants, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster commented:

“The issues around the migrant workforce within the wider Brexit debate is a concerning issue for the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland.”

Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster

“We are encouraged to hear that areas which we have pushed for, such as a review of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) specifically for Northern Ireland; Understanding of the special challenges locally due to the border with the Republic of Ireland; and the need to lower the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £24,500 for NI, have been raised directly with the Home Secretary at the House of Commons. It is clear that our voice is being heard.”

“We are actively reviewing the white paper which has just been published and will be highlighting any impacts on the hospitality sector during the consultative period.”

“We will be inviting the Home Secretary to Northern Ireland in the New Year as part of this process and will continue to press our case that the hospitality sector is vital to the local economy and that it must be protected.”