Northern Ireland has everything it needs to be a world leader in FinTech by Georgina O'Leary.

It’s coming up to Christmas and more and more of us these days will go online to shop with the likes of Amazon and other websites to buy presents. This online trend is not just for Christmas but one that consumers partake in all year round, official statistics released in September show that UK retail experienced record spending online.

This is just one of the most visible signs of a revolution that is sweeping across the UK and global economy. FinTech is here, and it is changing everything.

FinTech is short for Financial Technology. It’s the apps, computer programmes and other technologies that support and improve how we bank and access finance. It also encompasses payment technologies that make it so easy to buy those Christmas presents online.

The UK Government has recognised the incredible opportunities this sector presents, and earlier this year Chancellor Philip Hammond appointed four “FinTech envoys” to drive it forward and show what a central part it is now playing in our knowledge economy.

I was honoured to be one of the envoys chosen to lead the charge here in Northern Ireland. As the Director of Innovation, Research and Development at Allstate Northern Ireland, I have witnessed first hand the impact innovations in FinTech has already had and will continue to have on every aspect of the economy.

Georgina O’Leary is the director of innovation, research and development at Allstate and FinTech envoy for Northern Ireland

Georgina O’Leary is the director of innovation, research and development at Allstate and FinTech envoy for Northern Ireland

As envoy, it’s my job to champion Northern Ireland as a place for firms to develop and grow their business. There are reasons why Belfast is the world’s number one destination for FinTech development investment projects.

World class Universities, an exceptional talent pool and an international reputation as a world leading cyber security hub are just a few of the reasons why big multi-national firms have decided to invest in the FinTech sector in Northern Ireland.

It’s not just big multi-nationals, however, the start-up scene in Belfast is also vibrant.

Start-ups and big companies are both reaping the benefits of these changes and collaborating to do so. Barclays is one of the major partners of the Ormeau Baths, which is well established and full of some of the brightest and best indigenous tech start-ups, competing on a global scale.

This start-up scene is also growing. The newly announced Belfast FinTech hub, the product of a partnership between Danske Bank and Catalyst inc, is hugely ambitious and will help boost and grow the next generation of FinTech business start-ups.

Northern Ireland isn’t just good for FinTech, FinTech is good for Northern Ireland. The sector currently contributes around £ to the UK economy and employs 61,000 people across the country. Thousands of those jobs are in Northern Ireland, with 2,000 people already employed as software engineers and systems architects in the development of trading technology platforms.

The sector is not just providing jobs, but high skilled, high paid careers that drive economic growth across Northern Ireland.

The UK is backing FinTech because the opportunities, especially to Northern Ireland, are incredible and can revolutionise our economy, if we embrace them.

This article first appeared in the December 2018 copy of Ulster Business.

GLL become first JAM Card friendly leisure provider.

Social enterprise and gym operator GLL has become the first leisure provider in Northern Ireland to become JAM Card friendly.

GLL currently runs 14 leisure centres in partnership with Belfast City Council, under the brand name ‘Better’.

The JAM Card was developed by another social enterprise, the NOW Group for those with learning difficulties, autism and communication barriers.

It can be used to show that a person might need ‘just a minute’ more time when doing everyday things such as taking the bus, buying goods in a shop or using their local leisure centre.

Regional Human Resources Business Partner, Catherine Sweeney said:

“We are really proud to be partnering with fellow social enterprise the NOW Group, who are training our staff to understand the needs of JAM Card users.  

“With almost 2 million visitors each year, we pride ourselves on providing excellent customer service and that means making sure everyone who uses our leisure centres receives a warm welcome from our team.

“We see the JAM Card as a simple yet effective way to help people with learning difficulties, autism and dementia feel confident to take part in regular physical activity.  Whether they are learning to swim, keeping fit in any of our classes or using our gyms across the city, we are here to support them.

Diane Hill, Director of Business Development at NOW Group added:

“Having a learning disability or communication difficulty means that doing the everyday things we take for granted can be stressful for lots of people. JAM Card allows people in these situations to signal that they need a bit more time.

“The success of JAM Card depends on businesses and public service providers getting onboard with the initiative, so it is really heartening to see GLL commit to training its staff to be JAM Card friendly.

Eversheds Sutherland nominated for NI Law Firm of the Year

International law firm, Eversheds Sutherland, based in Belfast has been nominated by industry bible ‘Legal 500 UK’ for the prestigious title of Northern Ireland law firm of the year.

Alan Murphy.jpg

The winner will be revealed at an awards ceremony in early February next year at the Guildhall in London.

The law firm, which only set up in Belfast in 2005 with six staff, has grown in strength to now boast 15 lawyers including 3 partners.

The Legal 500 UK awards recognises and rewards the best in-house and private practice teams and individuals over the past 12 months. Assessed on merit, the awards highlight the practice area teams who provide the most cutting edge and innovative advice.

Recently, Eversheds Sutherland announced its intention to double its size in Northern Ireland to bring its headcount to over 30, due to the demand for its services.

Eversheds Sutherland Ireland managing partner Alan Murphy said today:

“This is outstanding recognition of our team in Belfast and the work that they have done to build our international network here.”

“Legal 500 is the benchmark by which the legal industry is externally measured and to be nominated against other established and well-respected firms is hugely encouraging for us.” 

“Over the last year we have worked on many wide ranging and complex deals which have shown the ability and dedication of our entire team.”

“The turbulence caused by Brexit has been challenging for our clients who often work across international borders, but with our network of offices and our strong presence across the island of Ireland we have been able to help them navigate this difficult period and will continue to do so right into 2019.”

“As we move towards the awards event in London in February we will continue to grow the team and attract the sort of talent that wants to work with a leading international law firm.”

Community Pharmacy NI welcomes council motion to save pharmacies

Community Pharmacy NI has welcomed a motion that was unanimously passed by Belfast City Council last night in response to the critical funding crisis facing local pharmacies.

The motion that was tabled by Alderman Sonia Copeland recognises the invaluable contribution that community pharmacies make to society and the serious level of underfunding in the sector.

Belfast City Council will also seek an urgent meeting between the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health, a delegation from the Council and representatives of the sector to discuss the funding crisis.

Despite an independent report that shows the total cost of running the community pharmacy service here is in the region of £130 - £136 million annually, the pharmacy network remains underfunded by at least £20 million per year.

The motion comes at a time when the Department’s funding announcement was deemed by Community Pharmacy NI to fall well short of what is required to save the service.

From 1 December, community pharmacies in Northern Ireland have been forced to stop offering Monitored Dosage Systems (medicine trays) to new patients because of safety fears caused by the Department of Health budget cuts.

The medicine trays are used by patients on a combination of drugs, for example the frail elderly and those living with complex, chronic conditions. Pharmacists now fear that taking on new patients would put both new and existing patients at risk.

Alderman Sonia Copeland, who brought the motion to Belfast City Council said:

“Community pharmacies provide vital services to society with 123,00 people on average visiting a community pharmacy each day. Despite the important role that they play in the health and wellbeing of the population, community pharmacies are facing a continuing underfunding of some £20 million per year.

“I was pleased to bring this motion to Council to recognise the important role that community pharmacies play and to highlight the serious issue of continued underfunding.

“We as a Council will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Health along with representatives from the community pharmacy sector and will be making the case for additional funding for the vital services that they provide.”

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI said:

“In recent weeks the Department of Health announced a funding package for community pharmacy that falls well below what is actually required to solve this crisis.

“The risk of pharmacy closures therefore remains, as does the risk of patients being left without access to many of the services and the drugs they need.

“I welcome the fact that local Councillors have brought this issue forward to Belfast City Council and Community Pharmacy NI welcomes the chance to engage with the Council further following this extremely important motion.”

Airporter Move Customer Drop Off And Pick Up Point To City Centre Following Recent Growth

North West transport firm Airporter has announced that it will be moving its customer drop off/pick up point to the city centre to deal with a substantial increase in demand. 

The firm, which provides a vital transport link between the North West city region and the two Belfast airports, will begin operating from a new bus stop at the Foyleside Coach park, beside the shopping centre, from 7 January 2019.

The announcement of the new bus stop comes just weeks after the unveiling of a £1million investment in a new 14,000 square foot hub on a 2.5 acre site at the site of the old Lough Swilly bus company, in the Springtown Industrial Estate.

The company made the decision to move its pick up and drop off points as part of its wider strategic move to deal with a steep rise in demand for services.

Founded in 1996, the company has seen passenger numbers increase from around 5,000 in its first year to approximately 155,000 last year. It has a fleet of 21 vehicles and operates 30 journeys every day.

The company has evolved from one that transports holiday-makers to one which ferries thousands of people every year who commute to the UK and beyond for work and study.

It has become a crucial part of the infrastructure linking the North West city region to the rest of the world.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter and Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager at the Foyleside Coach park.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter and Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager at the Foyleside Coach park.

Niall McKeever, Director of Airporter said:

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people using our service and this move is a direct reaction to that. We want to ensure there is a seamless connection between the North West city region and the UK and Europe.

“The reason more people than ever are visiting the North West City region, including Derry/Londonderry, is because it’s an attractive place for both tourists and investors. The reason those people are choosing to travel with us, is because we provide a reliable and efficient service.

“Airporter connects the North West with the rest of the world and we know that people are more likely to come here if there’s a fast, cost effective and efficient service to get them here. We know that we haven’t built that reputation on standing still and the fact that we have 150,000 more customers this year than we did in the year we started is because we have made investments and changes to maintain the quality of our service and make it work for our customers first and foremost.

“Tourism is an incredibly important part of the Northern Irish economy. Tourists provide a vital boost to the local economy and recent work that has started on the A6 will only make it easier for people to travel to and from the North West. We expect that more and more people will use our service as the travel time will reduce even further once those road works are complete.

“The investments that we have made as a company over the last twenty years have shown our commitment and dedication to the North West City region. There is a lot of energy, passion and talent in this region and what we need now is a functioning Executive that can take long term strategic decisions on the best way to invest in infrastructure and promote economic growth.”

Fergal Rafferty, Foyleside Centre Manager added:

“It’s great news for Airporter’s thousands of passengers that they have chosen Foyleside as the location for their new customer contact point.

“The central location and ease of access to other means of onward travel will undoubtedly prove popular, as will the discounted parking rates they can enjoy in our Eastside Carpark.

“This partnership between Foyleside and Airporter now means that those travelling to see this part of the world for the first time will find a warm welcome right in the heart of the city.”

Speech and Language therapists call for urgent investment in services

Thousands of people waiting for speech and language therapy in Northern Ireland  

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland has called for urgent investment in speech and language therapy ahead of its conference this weekend.

The organisation is currently engaging in a workforce review with the Department of Health which will report that one in six speech and language therapy posts are vacant. This level of vacancy is contributing to an unacceptable number of people waiting for speech and language therapy in Northern Ireland.

The professional body has said that the ongoing review must address the need for increased resourcing and capacity building for staff to ensure that posts are filled and waiting lists can be tackled. With increased resources available to Northern Ireland, the profession demands that the needs of people with communication and swallowing difficulties are prioritised.

Thousands of children and adults with communication and or eating and drinking difficulties are waiting many months for assessment by a speech and language therapist and this is having a huge impact on their lives.

With children and young people, early intervention is crucial to improve life outcomes. For many people with debilitating conditions, access to speech and language therapy can be life-saving particularly for those with swallowing difficulties.

Head of the RCSLT office in NI, Alison McCullough MBE said:

“In advance of our conference, we are calling for urgent investment to tackle the large numbers of vacant speech and language therapy posts.

Alison McCullough MBE, Head of the NI office of The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Alison McCullough MBE, Head of the NI office of The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

“The number of vacant posts that the ongoing workforce review has identified, is having a direct impact on the numbers of people waiting for speech and language therapy and the waiting time for assessment. This situation is extremely worrying.

“Speech and language therapy transforms lives. It can change life outcomes for children and young people in terms of education and employment, and it also gives people a voice, so that they can communicate their wishes and needs to those around them.

“The work being carried out by the Department of Health in this case is welcome, however we do need strategic policy commitments and direction that can only come from having local and accountable decision-making in Northern Ireland.

Medicine supply to patients 'no longer guaranteed' say community pharmacists after warning over finances from wholesalers

Suppliers and wholesalers have now written to the Department of Health to warn that the supply of medicines ‘will grind to a halt’. 

The Chief of Community Pharmacy NI has slammed Department of Health officials for ignoring repeated calls by the network, and now wholesalers, to save community pharmacy from imminent collapse.

The situation has deteriorated so severely that it has now been revealed that several wholesalers have contacted the Department of Health to warn that the ‘supply of medicines will grind to a halt’ because of the credit worthiness of pharmacies.

In one letter, a wholesaler has advised the Department that it has begun to see, with increasing frequency, pharmacies failing to pay their bills. Wholesalers have said that they have no other option but to call time on local community pharmacists.   

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI commented:

“It is not surprising to learn that several wholesalers have contacted the Department regarding this. We have been telling them for some time that community pharmacy is on its knees and cannot pay its bills.

Gerard Greene, CEO, Community Pharmacy NI.

Gerard Greene, CEO, Community Pharmacy NI.

“We have seen correspondence which shows that the Department was warned some time ago by a major wholesaler that the supply of medicines to patients could grind to a halt.

“We have also been warning the Department that the failure to resolve this issue will have dire consequences for patient safety. This is now becoming a reality with the warning from wholesalers that there is an imminent danger of pharmacies failing and patients being unable to obtain their medicines. 

“From a recent survey of our members we were truly shocked to learn that many of them have had to use pension funds and savings to plug gaps and pay suppliers and keep providing medicines to their patients.

“What is more difficult to understand is the fact that we have political support across the board for an improvement of the pharmacy contract, as well as direction from the last Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to sort this out.

MPs and MLAs have called for Community Pharmacy under-funding to be urgently addressed.

MPs and MLAs have called for Community Pharmacy under-funding to be urgently addressed.

“The sheer intransigence of the Department in resolving this situation will result in pharmacies closing and will reduce people’s access to a vital health service, impacting hugely upon patient safety.”

“Funding of at least £130 million is required for a safe community pharmacy service in Northern Ireland. The Department knows that but has been wilfully ignoring this reality for some time.”

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark added:

“Consistent underfunding of the community pharmacy network means that many community pharmacists can no longer afford to keep to their credit terms with suppliers and wholesalers.

“These are pharmacists who have been running successful pharmacy businesses for years but who now face having to ask wholesalers for extensions to credit terms because the Department is not paying them adequately for the medicines they dispense. 

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark

Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, John Clark

“If wholesalers have to start refusing credit to community pharmacies this could affect all types of medicines and we have no idea of what types. At the moment, all medicine supplies are at risk.

“At a time when the health service is under severe strain, pharmacists provide a walk-in service that requires no appointment. That is of massive importance to many people, not least of which are those who are older, vulnerable and take a combination of medicines for complex conditions. Pharmacists provide fundamental advice and support to those people to ensure they manage their medicines in a safe way.

CPNI Meeting Photo 2.jpg

“It is of huge concern that many patients will now be at risk of going without medicines simply because the Department refuses to acknowledge a problem it has been warned about for some time.”

Brown O'Connor Communications Political and Business Diary - November and December 2018


12 November, House of Commons returns from recess

13 & 14 November, William J Clinton Leadership Institute – Leadership & Negotiation

14 November, NICC in camera dinner with Derek McCallan, CEO, NILGA

14 - 16 November, Association of Pension Lawyers conference, Europa Hotel

15 November, RTPI Ireland annual dinner, Dublin

16 November, CO3 CEO Networking Session

16 – 18 November, Citizens Assembly meets

19 November, CBI Annual Conference – Business: The Next Generation (London)

19 November, The Asia Matters Business Awards, Dublin

20 November, Q&A with Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin - UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, QUB

20 November, Stephen Livingstone Annual Lecture 2018

20 November, agendaNI Northern Ireland Planning conference

21 November, Women in IT awards

22 November, CBI: People and Skills: Business Insight Conference

22 November, Northern Ireland Environmental Benchmarking Survey Results Launch

22 November, Business Eye First Trust Awards

24 November, DUP Party Conference

27 November, CBI Insight: The Future of UK Trade

28 November, Keeping the Cranes Up conference, QUB

29 November, NI Chamber President’s Banquet, Waterfront Hall

30 November, Belfast Chamber Festive Drinks reception

PEYE 270217KB3  0241A.JPG


4 December, NI Chamber Energy Forum in partnership with SONI

4 December, NI Chamber Christmas Networking

4 December, The Brexit survival guide for business (by Business First Network)

5 December, NI Policy Forum: Next steps in delivering the Belfast City Region Deal

6 December, NI Policy Forum: Next steps in delivering healthcare reform in Northern Ireland

6 December, NI Chamber near market visit - Manchester

10 December, What next for the proposed Northern Ireland Bill of Rights? Ulster University

10 December, The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Annual Statement Launch

10 & 11 December, William J Clinton Leadership Institute - Leading with Data: Business Analytics for Executives

11 December, NI Chamber International Trade training

13 & 14 December, EU leaders summit

14 December, CO3 CEO Networking Session

18 December, Dealing with HMRC investigations, Chartered Accountants Ireland

20 December, UK Parliament Christmas recess


£65m investment in peace building showcased at international Build Peace Conference

The Urban Villages Initiative was showcased to an international audience at an event in Belfast this week.

The event, held at the Ormeau Baths, was an opportunity to present projects from the £65 million investment to delegates from the Build Peace conference. The conference is taking place in Ulster University and brings together around 250 activists, academics and policy makers from all over the world to discuss innovation in peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

Urban villages event.jpg

The Urban Villages Initiative is a headline action within the NI Executive’s Together Building a United Community (TBUC) strategy and is overseen by the Executive Office. It is designed to improve good relations and areas where there has been a history of deprivation and community tension.

The initiative brings together the Executive Office, local government and community and voluntary groups and has seen success in delivering a number of projects specific to each area.


The five Urban Villages are The Bogside, Fountain and Bishop Street in Derry-Londonderry, Ardoyne and greater Ballysillan, Colin, the lower part of the Newtownards Road and Sandy Row, Donegall Pass and the Markets. 

Dr Mark Browne, Director, Strategic of Policy Equality and Good Relations said:

We are delighted to be supporting the Build Peace 2018 International Conference. It is fantastic to see so many international delegates here in Belfast and a privilege to be able to tell them about the Executive’s Good Relations Strategy, ‘Together: Building a United Community’ (T:buc).

We showcased the Urban Villages Initiative at the event. This is a £65 million investment by the Executive in areas where there has previously been a history of deprivation and community tension. Through a combination of community and capital projects this programme is clearly impacting good relations by fostering positive community identity, building community capacity and impacting the physical environment.”

Kate Mytty, Build Up Associate and MIT Visiting Lecturer added:

"As part of the Build Peace 2018 conference, we hosted an evening panel and discussion session to bring together international delegates and representatives from Belfast. A number of projects from Urban Villages that work to build greater connection were highlighted that embody the conference’s theme of building peace by re-imagining prosperity.”

Community Pharmacy Chief warns Westminster group that patient services falling behind in Northern Ireland

Gerard Greene, Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI has told the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy today that patient services in Northern Ireland lag massively behind their counterparts in Great Britain and that nothing is being done to close the gap.

CPNI CEO Gerard Greene with Chair of Pharmacy APPG Sir Kevin Barron

CPNI CEO Gerard Greene with Chair of Pharmacy APPG Sir Kevin Barron

Setting out the stark message to a range of MPs and Lords, Gerard Greene said that patients here have been deprived of services that have been accessible elsewhere in the United Kingdom for several years.

“Scotland and Wales provide us with excellent examples of what innovation and development looks like and the impact it can have on improving patient outcomes, reacting to shifting demands and delivering efficiencies.”

“The healthcare system in Northern Ireland 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.”

He added:

“For example, Community Pharmacists in the likes of Scotland and Wales have been prioritised for training in Independent Prescribing – whereby a pharmacist may prescribe autonomously for any condition within their clinical competence - is not even being considered in Northern Ireland.”  

“Development in community pharmacy has suffered significantly as the current £20m per annum 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.”

Gerard Greene CPNI Photo 1 .jpg

“How can we meet the changing needs of public healthcare when there is huge funding problems in the background. We are falling further behind and need the members of the APPG on Pharmacy to recognise that and intervene on our behalf – especially when we have no Assembly or Executive to deal with this devolved issue.”

He informed the parliamentary group that the failure to agree new contractual arrangements was the cause of a lack of development in patient services and that in some areas we are up to 10 years behind colleagues elsewhere.

“We are light years behind in terms of patient services and the fact that the community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland has been plunged into financial uncertainty since 2011/2012 has had a detrimental impact for everyone. The £20million per annum funding gap and the Department of Health’s reticence to deal with it means that we are regressing.”

The meeting in Westminster comes just days after a range of patient groups here demanded answers from the Department of Health as to why the shortfall is not being met and have serious concerns that it is impacting negatively on patients who are having to wait longer on the medicines they need.

Patient groups such as the MS Society are worried as it has been suggested that people living with long term conditions such as MS will suffer if there is a shortage of medicines or pharmacies cannot provide the drugs they need daily.

David Galloway, Northern Ireland Director of the MS Society said:

“Patients rely on pharmacists to not only dispense drugs but also to advise them on how to take medicine appropriately and answer any questions they have around managing their medication. We urgently need the Department to recognise that the growing pressures on community pharmacy pose a significant risk to patient safety.”