Brown O'Connor Communications: Key Political and Business Events & Live Consultations


Upcoming key political and business events

  • 31 August, TEDxStormont, The Great Hall, Parliament Buildings

  • 31 August, Slugger O’Toole Big Day Out, Hilden Brewery, Hilden

  • 5 September, ‘Bangladesh – A Golden Journey to Development’ Reception, The Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings

  • 11 September, Trade NI ‘Northern Ireland Engagement Day’, Westminster

  • 17 September, RTPI Northern Ireland Annual Conference, Europa Hotel, Belfast

  • 27 September, CO3 Executive Recruitment Company Launch, Merchant Hotel, Belfast

  • 8 October, ‘Changing Places: Planning, Place-Shaping and Place-Making in Northern Ireland’, NILGA, Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen

  • 11-15 November, Derry City and Strabane District Council Trade & Investment Mission to Philadelphia and Boston

  • 4 December, ‘Next steps for city and growth deals in Northern Ireland – Implementation, co-ordination and ensuring inclusive growth’, Policy Forum for Northern Ireland, Belfast


NILGA to Host Major Planning and Place-Shaping Conference

NILGA Place Shaping and Infrastructure Network Chair Cllr Stevie Corr

NILGA Place Shaping and Infrastructure Network Chair Cllr Stevie Corr

NILGA - the Northern Ireland Local Government Association - is set to host a key Planning and Place-Shaping conference in October in Enniskillen.

The event, which is set to take place at the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen on 8 October, will bring together leading senior representatives from the NI Civil Service, business, local government, environmental, social economy and academic partners.

The conference ‘Changing Places: Planning, Place-Shaping and Place-Making in Northern Ireland’ is an important local government event for anyone interested in the future of planning, the environment or economic development in Northern Ireland. It is expected to be a focal point in helping to shape and develop local government policy and informing how local councils can effectively lead future planning and infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland.

 Speakers will include:

·        Katrina Godfrey, Permanent Secretary, Dept for Infrastructure

·        Sara Venning, CEO, NI Water

·        Paddy Gray, Emeritus Professor of Housing - Ulster University

·        Peter Morrow, Aecom

·        David Jackson, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council 

·        Noelle McAloon, Enniskillen BID Manager

·        Ian Humphrey, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

·        Robin Hambleton, University of the West of England and Urban Answers

As part of the local government reform programme, local councils now have more responsibilities for planning. Planning is a hugely significant responsibility which councils seek to plan and deliver with local communities as it affects the lives of everyone. It is key that local councils have strong, efficient and focused planning systems which partner bodies respond to dynamically. Local government is a key player in delivering sustainable development, is at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis, is providing more high-quality social housing and is driving the wider Northern Ireland economy.

Cllr Stevie Corr, Chair, NILGA Place Shaping and Infrastructure Network said:

“Planning powers are arguably local government’s greatest responsibility in Northern Ireland. Place-shaping is about getting the right things built in the right places, about the spaces around buildings and other key issues including social justice, job creation, regeneration, climate change and sustainable development.

“This conference is a vital opportunity to hear from leaders in the planning sector and discuss how local government can improve our housing policies, build our resilience to the climate crisis, exploit our digital infrastructure to deliver economic success, and develop sustainable tourism in our local areas.

“We hope to welcome as many people as possible to Enniskillen on 8 October and we look forward to sharing perspectives, ideas and views on how to shape the future of planning in Northern Ireland.”

Tickets to the event can be purchased at

Hospitality Ulster condemns Coach Nightclub drinks promotion

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster CEO

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster CEO

Responding to the Coach Nightclub drinks promotion, Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster said:

“Irresponsible promotions have no place in our industry and we condemn them outright. We believe the imagery associated with this promotion is unacceptable and have referred it to the Independent Complaints Panel for the industry’s Responsible Retailing Code.

“No promotion should encourage over-consumption or abuse of alcohol and licensees have a responsibility, both legal and moral, to ensure they promote the consumption of alcohol in a responsible way.

“The constant evolution of social media platforms means that there is an even greater need to ensure staff and event promoters are fully aware of the Code and ensure all promotions are checked before publication.

“I have spoken with the chair of the Responsible Retailing Code, Duncan McCausland this morning, who has also taken the Nolan Show coverage of this promotion as a public complaint and that complaint will be brought before the Independent Complaints Panel next week.

“We would urge everyone in our industry to make sure they are up to speed with the code and go to to familiarise themselves with it. Examples of both irresponsible and responsible promotions can also be downloaded to help with staff awareness.”

Opinion Editorial: ‘Tourism Tax’ a non-starter – Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster, Chief Executive

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster, Chief Executive

With a ‘Tax’ on our fledgling Tourism offer now openly being proposed, I have to ask if those in power don’t actually realise how uncompetitive our tourism offer already is. In case they hadn’t noticed, we’ve the second highest Tourism VAT in Europe and the highest Air Passenger Duty (APD) in the world.

It would appear that all they see is an opportunity to cash in on what could be (if properly supported by government) the backbone of our economy before it even gets off the ground. Yes, tourism in Northern Ireland is on the up, but it’s still only 5.2% of our GDP, compared to the Republic of Ireland which is over 10% or Wales at 14%. It’s still limited to a small number of geographical locations and needs sustained investment, not increased taxation.

The justification for such a tax is, in reality, to offset the negative effects of tourism and potentially reduce tourist numbers. However, take a look out of the window, this isn’t Venice or New York. We’re a region of an island, off a larger island, that has to work extremely hard to get tourists here in the first place.

As the centre piece of the tourism offer, the hospitality industry can’t see the logic in such a policy and would be very concerned that the impact of any additional taxation would actually put tourists off coming here. We continue to struggle to compete with other parts of Europe as a destination.

We are very proud of our tourism offer in Northern Ireland. People travel here to enjoy our culture and our craic in our world class pubs and restaurants.

The hospitality industry is a major contributor to the economy to the tune of £1.2billion per year employing around 60,000 people, a tourism tax would simply add another unnecessary pressure which will eat into that positive contribution.

The latest tourism figures show that the potential for tourism in Northern Ireland is huge. But, to fulfil that potential, our industry needs support including common sense reform of our outdated licensing laws, reform of business rates, reduced hospitality VAT and abolition of APD.

In fact, it could have the unintended consequence of creating more day trippers as tourists base themselves in the Republic of Ireland and pop over the border to visit our attractions during the day. Retreating back across the border to spend the evening, and their money, in their pubs and restaurants, which already have a lower VAT rate than us.

Getting more tourists here, increasing their dwell time, getting them to spend more time in our pubs, restaurants, cafes and contributing to the night-time economy should be our collective focus. Revenues in hospitality and tourism have shown to far outweigh the financial benefit of a tax on tourists. We need to get away from the idea of taxing success.

The money that a family on holiday to Belfast would have to spend on the tourist tax is far better off in the till of a local restaurant, pub, shop or visitor attraction. So, let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face and stick the tourism tax idea in the bin and focus on Plan A - attracting tourists here in the first place.

Surely the people in power realise that increased tourism will result in increased tax take for our councils through paying more rates, plus increased employment for their constituents.

What’s next; a fun tax?

Lord Mayor joins mini sporting heroes at Summer Sports Day

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane joins Aidan Thompson from Avoniel Leisure Centre, Leila O’Rawe from Falls Leisure Centre, and Ronan McKenna, GLL Community Sports Manager, at the annual Belfast Summer Sports Day hosted by GLL.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane joins Aidan Thompson from Avoniel Leisure Centre, Leila O’Rawe from Falls Leisure Centre, and Ronan McKenna, GLL Community Sports Manager, at the annual Belfast Summer Sports Day hosted by GLL.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr John Finucane joined more than 200 young children from across Belfast to take part in the annual Belfast Summer Sports Day at the Ozone Complex today.

Over 2,000 have been attending the city’s Better Summer Schemes at nine leisure centres run by social enterprise GLL and the annual sports day celebrates the end of this year’s schemes.

The children who participated in this year’s Sports Day tried their hand at more than ten different sports activities from rugby to hurling, as part of the summer sports activities, making new friends from across the community.

In keeping with GLL’s aim for its schemes to be inclusive to all children, one of the new stations for participants this year was wheelchair basketball, and inspired by the city’s boxing tradition, a boxing drill station was also on offer.

The young budding sports stars were also joined on the day by some of the city’s most promising young athletes who are supported by the GLL Sport Foundation as part of the social enterprise’s commitment to nurturing local sports talent.

Speaking at the Summer Sports Day today, Lord Mayor John Finucane said;

“It’s absolutely fantastic to see so many young people enjoying such a diverse offering of sporting activities at today’s sports day, with some of the activities being delivered by our dedicated Everybody Active partners. Not only is participation in sport a great way of fulfilling an active and healthy lifestyle, it’s also a brilliant way for young people to come together and meet new people and build friendships. I’m delighted to see our leisure provider GLL Belfast, continuing to deliver first class leisure provision for everyone across the city.”

Ronan McKenna, GLL Community Sport Engagement Manager, said:

“Our aim is to encourage as many children as possible to get active and stir up their enthusiasm for sports of different kinds. We’ve spent the last few weeks with these kids and wanted to mark the end of a great summer scheme by bringing them all together at the Ozone to have a bit of fun and try out a range of different sporting activities, whilst showcasing what is on offer for them across the city.

“This is a really exciting time for GLL and Better in Belfast as we approach the reopening of three newly developed leisure centres, so to get kids active and excited about sport is a real is key to transforming leisure in Belfast.”

 GLL along with Belfast City Council will reopen the redeveloped Lisnasharragh, Brook and Andersonstown Leisure Centres early 2020 and aim to encourage as many children and their families to join their local leisure centre and get fit and active.  

The summer scheme provides the opportunity for those involved to link in with local sports clubs and community groups in their area by bringing children together from all across the city.

Young Derry/L’Derry Woman Tegan Nesbitt wins final speaker slot at TEDxStormont

Winner of ‘Talk like TED’, Tegan Nesbitt with the judging panel, (Left to right) Mark Browne, The Executive Office, Eva Grosman, TEDxStormont Curator and Pippa Arlow, Smarts

Winner of ‘Talk like TED’, Tegan Nesbitt with the judging panel, (Left to right) Mark Browne, The Executive Office, Eva Grosman, TEDxStormont Curator and Pippa Arlow, Smarts

Tegan Nesbitt has won the final speaker slot at TEDxStormont which takes place on 31 August at Parliament Buildings, Stormont as part of the Urban Villages and Smarts backed ‘Talk like TED’ series.

Tegan was selected by a panel of expert judges after the final part of the programme which took place in the Long Gallery at Stormont.

Following an intensive bootcamp style training programme over 5 weeks, Tegan along with 8 other finalists from Urban Villages areas took to the floor at the Long Gallery to deliver powerful and moving talks about different aspects of their lives, all centred around the TEDxStormont 2019 theme of ‘Imagine’.

Winner of TEDxStormont’s ‘Talk like TED’ Tegan Nesbitt from Derry/L’Derry said:

I can’t believe I’ve won. It’s been such an incredible experience for all of us. We have learnt so much about communication and speech making during the workshops and winning today has topped it all. To win the chance to deliver a talk at Stormont is really special, and to be given such a big platform is fantastic.

“On behalf of all the participants, I’d like to say a big thank you to Sarah and Camilla for being such great mentors to us over the workshops, really showing us the ropes of how to deliver a talk, and helping us get to the root of what we wanted to say. We’d also like to thank Urban Villages for providing us with this opportunity and seeing our potential to ‘Talk like TED’.

“I can’t wait to go on to the big day at TEDxStormont and deliver my talk to an even bigger audience with all the other incredible speakers. I’m also thrilled to begin my mentorship with Smarts. A huge opportunity for me to learn more about communications and advance my strengths and abilities in that field, from what I have learnt during the process.”

Sponsor of the ‘Talk like TED’ programme and one of the judges, Global Chief Executive of global PR and content agency, Smarts, Pippa Arlow:

“This has been such a fantastic programme and Smarts has been delighted to partner up with TEDxStormont to deliver such an incredible initiative for the young participants. We have been so excited and inspired by the level of talent on offer, and Tegan’s talk was so beautifully put together and refreshing, a thoroughly deserved winner. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming Tegan to Smarts to take part in our mentorship programme and hope she finds it to be rewarding experience.”

Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Executive Office, Mark Browne said:

“The sheer level of talent that was on display today was exceptional and really showcased the thoughtful and inspiring vision the younger generation have for the future of Northern Ireland. It was extremely difficult to choose just one to go to TEDxStormont, as each of the participants truly brought a passion and excitement to their personal stories.

“Tegan gave a strong and motivating talk, really drawing on their personal experiences to deliver a stirring message about hoping for a better future. We believe that Tegan will be a real stand out and fantastic addition to this year’s TEDxStormont line-up. We can’t wait to see them on that red spot in the coming weeks.”

Curator of TEDxStormont, Eva Grosman also added:

“Firstly, I would like to say a huge well done to all the participants of this year’s ‘Talk like TED’, it has been a wonderful lead up to the TEDxStormont event on 31 August. When launching the ‘Talk like TED’ initiative, we never thought we would have such a caliber of amazing young people wanting to join us.

“Tegan has shown us the skills and speaking ability that is required to be a TEDx speaker. They showed the panel, and the audience today their charisma and strength, along with a striking talk that got to the core of our overall theme of imagine. A truly worthy winner.

“We would also like to extend a massive thank you to Urban Villages and Smarts for being such a fantastic sponsors of the initiative and helping to make it happen. The support they have provide our participants has been incredible and has enhanced the experience no end.”

Trade NI meets with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP

Mary Meehan, Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill of Trade NI meet with Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP

Mary Meehan, Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill of Trade NI meet with Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP

Trade NI, Northern Ireland’s largest business coalition, representing Manufacturing NI, Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI has today met with the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who is visiting Belfast.

 Trade NI representatives Colin Neill, Glyn Roberts and Mary Meehan said:

“This was an excellent meeting with the Shadow Chancellor, covering Brexit, Business Rates, Infrastructure and other challenges facing our members. We outlined our ideas to reboot economic policy in Northern Ireland”

“We made it very clear of the importance of getting a EU withdrawal deal and avoiding the damaging scenario of a no deal Brexit. Labour party MPs have a key role in ensuring that Parliament does not allow the UK to crash out without a deal”

“Trade NI also outlined our concerns over Business Rates, with Northern Ireland having the highest rates in the UK with very few reliefs which businesses in other parts of the UK receive. Nor did we receive our fair share of the Future High Streets Fund and we are also falling behind the rest of the UK in relation to infrastructure investment”

 “At our meeting we encouraged the Labour party to publish its policy priorities for the Northern Ireland economy. Trade NI would be interested in engaging further with Shadow Ministers to help shape their policy.”

Final TEDxStormont spot up for grabs – showdown to find one young speaker to take place at Stormont on 8 August

‘Talk like TED’ participants Rebecca Toolan, Tegan Nesbitt, Nathan Ignacio Alexio, Amy Doherty, Jack Ellison, Beth Vance, Maria McStravick and Catriona Walsh

‘Talk like TED’ participants Rebecca Toolan, Tegan Nesbitt, Nathan Ignacio Alexio, Amy Doherty, Jack Ellison, Beth Vance, Maria McStravick and Catriona Walsh

Eight young participants from the Urban Villages areas in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry will meet for a final head-to-head to decide who will win the coveted final spot in this year’s TEDxStormont line-up on 31 August at the Great Hall, Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

The ‘Talk like TED’ programme, which has been supported by The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative along with global PR and content agency, Smarts, will see the finalists battle it out on 8 August at Stormont, delivering a range of talks on their unique and special experiences all centered around the TEDxStormont theme of ‘Imagine’.

The young storytellers will assemble in front of an esteemed panel of communications and good relations experts including:

  • Pippa Arlow, Global Chief Executive of global PR and content agency, Smarts

  • Mark Browne, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Executive Office

  • William Crawley, Broadcaster, Presenter and host of TEDxStormont 2019

  • Eva Grosman, Curator of TEDxStormont

The winner will then take to the red dot on 31 August joining well-known faces such as internationally renowned contemporary artist, Colin Davison, entrepreneur Deepa Mann-Kler and owner of Boden Coffee Company, Orla McKeating for an inspirational day of ideas and stories from across a vast range of backgrounds and sectors.

The participants have taken part in the ‘Talk like TED’ programme over the last 5 weeks, led by broadcaster, Sarah Travers, learning how to be confident, connect with their audience, and highlighting what makes them and their story unique in order to prepare one of them to take to the stage in front of a live audience of 200 people and a huge audience online.

This programme has been supported by The Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative and global PR and content agency, Smarts, based in Belfast, who have also offered up a mentorship at the prestigious firm as part of the winning prize.

Mark Browne, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Executive Office, with oversight of the Urban Villages Initiative, said:

“I am delighted that the Urban Villages Initiative was able to support the ‘Talk like TED’ programme and TEDxStormont. This has been an excellent opportunity for young participants from Urban Village areas to learn new skills and develop their ability to communicate more effectively.

“The aims of the Urban Villages Initiative include building community capacity and fostering positive community identities. This fantastic programme has allowed these young people to do just that, as they have worked closely with participants from different backgrounds and perspectives to share and develop their ideas.

“I congratulate these young people on their hard work - they have really come into their own. It is great to see that they have the confidence to tell their own personal story and to realise that they are unique and worth listening to. To be able to hear them express themselves on such a big platform as TEDx is really exciting and inspiring.  What great ambassadors they are for their communities!”

Pippa Arlow, Global Chief Executive at Smarts, added:

“We are thrilled to be backing TEDxStormont and the ‘Talk like TED’ programme.  Communication is such an important part of any organisation, and indeed a vital personal skill to have. This experience has challenged the finalists and tested their skills in speech making and how to communicate their story effectively. It is fantastic to be able to give the participants the opportunity to take to the TEDx stage, which only a select number of people have had.

“We are also excited to be able to give the chosen speaker the chance to join us at Smarts after TEDxStormont. As part of our mentorship programme, we want to be able to nurture this exceptional talent and hope to be able to build on what they have already learned during the sessions and want to further inspire and grow the winner into a fantastic communications professional.”

Eva Grosman, Curator of TEDxStormont commented:

“Over the past 5 weeks, we have had a fantastic time, engaging with the participants and their inspiring stories. The wealth of talent and openness shown by the participants has far exceed our imaginations and whoever wins the spot on the red dot will deliver a talk that will really resonate.

“It has been so interesting to listen to the participants views and to see what they imagine for Northern Ireland’s future, and the faith they have for a better and more hopeful time to come. This without doubt is going to be such a special part of TEDxStormont on 31 August.

“We would like to extend our thanks to the Executive Office Urban Villages Initiative and Smarts for being such fantastic partners, and helping to bring the participants together, along with the special guest appearances during the sessions. It has been an extraordinary programme.”

No Stone Unturned nominated for an Emmy Award

NSU _Main promotional still_preview.jpeg

The Loughinisland massacre documentary, No Stone Unturned has been nominated for an Emmy Award

The film, directed by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, was produced by Belfast based production company, Fine Point Films.

The film is nominated in the Outstanding Investigative Documentary category in the 40th News and Documentary Emmy Awards which celebrate the best talent in news and journalism around the world.

Producer of No Stone Unturned, Trevor Birney commented:

“We are overwhelmed with the news that No Stone Unturned has been nominated for a prestigious Emmy award. The team behind this film, both in New York and Belfast, was determined to shine a light on this very dark moment in our history.

“Alex Gibney is a master story teller and we thank him for bringing his immense skills to bear on this story.

“No one has been held accountable for the murder of six men at Loughinisland over 25-years ago. 

"The arrest of myself and journalist Barry McCaffrey by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in August, 2018 was an affront to the families who we remain indebted to for entrusting us with their story. 

"We can only hope that this recognition for the film brings further attention to their campaign for justice."

The News and Documentary Emmy awards ceremony will take place on 24th  September in New York City and will be attended by over 1,000 people from television and news media, as well as documentary producers and journalists.

Fine Point Films have also produced ‘George Best: All By Himself’, Emmy nominated film Elián, and the most successful Northern Irish film of all time, ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days’

New Secretary of State must prioritise roles and resources of Councils in N. Ireland says NILGA

NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan

NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan

Reacting to the appointment of Julian Smith as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, NILGA Chief Executive Derek McCallan said:

“I welcome and congratulate Julian Smith on his appointment as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We look forward to meeting Mr Smith in due course and we extend to the Secretary of State an invitation to our annual conference on 20 February 2020. We are eager to discuss with him how we can ensure the best delivery of public services via local government in Northern Ireland.

“Mr Smith’s appointment comes at an uncertain time for Northern Ireland and NILGA is keen to make sure that he prioritises devolving greater powers and resources to local councils to address the democratic deficit which currently exists in Northern Ireland. Improving Northern Ireland can be in large part delivered through making councils stronger and more sustainable, as the review of Public Administration declared years ago. We are part way there but we need new impetus. 

“Local councils are working and eager to increase their role with the Assembly stuck in stalemate. But the strain is greater than ever. Local government needs greater finances, powers and resources to best meet the demand from citizens – and from wider government – as well as fulfil their vital functions efficiently under fiscal strain. It is vital therefore that Mr Smith immediately recognises the potential of local government as a driver for local communities and economies and tackles unfinished business, like legislative delays, straight away.

“I’m sure that Mr Smith is aware that local councils have been the only functioning level of government here for the past two and a half years. We are keen to remind him of his predecessor’s commitment to devolve greater powers to local government in the continued absence of Stormont.

“NILGA wants to see a working and sustainable Assembly up and running as soon as possible, but until that happens, local councils need to be given greater resources to get things done. During the continued political impasse, councils are delivering more with less, taking on the likes of major infrastructure work as well as substantial, community led, preventative health work.

“Local government is taking on more and more responsibility for local communities. At the top of Mr Smith’s to-do list needs to be ensuring local government’s potential to address economic, social and legislative challenges is unlocked quickly. The solution is under our noses. It really is time to waken up and deliver for people’s needs here, through local government”.