Appointments made to the Board of AFBI

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill today announced the appointment of seven new members to the Board of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

They are Dr Michelle Costello-Smith, Theresa Cullen, Fiona Hanna, Dr Richard Horton, Joan Houston, Sharon Smyth and Richard Solomon. Their appointments will be effective from 1 April 2016 for a term of three years.    
Minister O’Neill said: “The role of the AFBI Board is to provide strategic direction and to promote good governance including the highest standards of financial management. These new Board members are from a diverse range of backgrounds. They bring with them skills and experience acquired in the agriculture, food and financial sectors and in science and technology environments. The new members’ collective commercial and business development acumen will make a major contribution to the role of the Board in advancing the work of AFBI. There are many challenges and opportunities for AFBI ahead and I wish them every success in supporting AFBI towards achieving its ambitious goals.”     

The Minister also took the opportunity to thank the Members of the Board who have reached the end of their term and wish them well in the future. Bob McCann and Hilary McCartan will step down at the end of March 2016 having serving two terms since April 2011.

Commenting on the new AFBI Board appointments, the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland, Judena Leslie said: “I am delighted to see such a diverse range of well qualified individuals appointed to the AFBI Board. We know that more diverse boards lead to better outcomes for the organisations they serve. These latest public appointments demonstrate that if Departments and Public Bodies focus on improving diversity and ensure that principle underpins an inclusive process, then it really can be achieved. Minister O’Neill is to be commended for her commitment and for providing an important step change in this area.”


1. AFBI is a DARD Executive Non-Departmental Public Body set up under the powers of the Agriculture (NI) Order 2004. It is empowered under the Order to undertake scientific work (research and development, testing, advice and information on scientific matters and dissemination of the results of scientific research) in the fields of agriculture, animal health and welfare, food, fisheries, forestry, the natural environment and rural development and enterprise. It employs approximately 640 staff located on six specialised, DARD-owned sites and one Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) operated site across the North.

2. The above appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland requires the political activity of appointees to be published. During 2014 Mrs Sharon Smyth was nominated by the Democratic Unionist Party to stand as a Councillor in the Strabane / Derry District Council Elections in 2014. Mrs Smyth is no longer a member of the party and has no other political affiliations. The remaining appointees have not been involved in any political activity during the past five years.

3. Board members will be paid £377 per day for a time commitment which is expected not to exceed 20 days per annum.

4. Dr Michelle Costello-Smith is a qualified medical physician from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) who lives in Oldcastle, Co Meath. Dr Costello-Smith has held numerous NCHD clinical positions in the Irish Public healthcare system (HSE) managing patient clinical care prior to transitioning into the pharmaceutical industry in 2000. With over 16 years experience working in roles of increasing responsibility in: Quintiles (Clinical Research Organisation), 2004 AstraZeneca (UK), 2008 Abbott Ireland Ltd and 2013 AbbVie Limited, Dr Costello-Smith has successfully executed and managed National Research & Development (R&D) academic and clinical programmes. Her accomplishments include: developing and implementing a national medical department for successful delivery of: all local national clinical research, national medical strategy, quality assurance and related governance / procedural / audit oversight, compliance regulatory and medical affairs activities, in addition to budget management. In her most recent role as Medical Director of a biopharmaceutical company, she has been a senior leader within the management team of the national commercial organisation prior to taking a career break in March 2016 to raise her young children on the family beef and sheep farm in rural County Meath.

5. Ms Theresa Cullen lives in Co Antrim. Having gained an Honours degree at the University of Leeds, Ms Cullen held a variety of scientific roles in the fields of Chemistry, Research and Development and Technical Sales Consultancy in the Food and allied industries. Ms Cullen has significant experience in Organisational Strategy and Management Consultancy – working for many years in the Statutory, Voluntary and Community sectors as well as working as a Practitioner in the field of Conflict Resolution and Community Relations. She holds an MSc in Counselling and Therapeutic Communication from the University of Ulster, is a BACP Accredited and UK Registered Counsellor / Psychotherapist, an EMDR Practitioner and has held a number of senior Clinical Service Management roles in organisations including Niamh / Carecall, and Trinity Counselling. Ms Cullen specialises in Trauma Therapy.

6. Mrs Fiona Hanna lives on the family farm in rural County Down near Rathfriland. Mrs Hanna is a Chartered Accountant by profession and Principal in her own Practice. Previously, until 2012, Mrs Hanna was an Audit Manager with Deloitte. From 2015 to date Mrs Hanna has been a Board member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and of Mourne, Gullion & Lecale Rural Development Partnership (Newry, Mourne & Down local Action Group). Mrs Hanna was a longstanding committee member of 15 years at Rathfriland Young Farmers’ Club until February 2016, having recently vacated the position of Club Grants Coordinator. Mrs Hanna had significant involvement in the Club’s project to build a new Club Hall in Rathfriland. Other past roles in the Club included Club Leader and Treasurer and she also held a previous Directorship with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster.

7. Dr Richard Horton lives in Belfast. Dr Horton has held research and business centre management roles at Mars Limited UK and the Harwell Laboratory UK. From 1985 to 1989 Dr Horton was First Secretary (Technology), serving as the diplomatic representative of the UK’s civilian technology interests at the British Embassy in Washington DC before working for the Hong Kong Government as Technical Advisor (Telecommunications), advising on telecommunications policy and regulation. Dr Horton was Group Manager in Cable and Wireless PLC (London) and Managing Director for the European Network for Communications and Information Perspectives (ENCIP) where he led policy and socio-economic research. He has also worked as a consultant in strategic business development, policy and regulation and was Senior Programme Manager at the Commission for Communications Regulation (Ireland) working in technology foresight and regulation. More recently, Dr Horton worked as a consultant in technological innovation, strategic business development, policy and regulation at White Rose Consulting (NI) and is founder and Managing Director of Carritech Research Ltd (NI).

8. Mrs Joan Houston lives in Bangor, Co Down and as a Chartered Accountant has previously held management positions at Peat Marwick Mitchell (KPMG) and Deloitte Haskins Sells and as Assistant Director at Ernst and Young LLP (now EY). From 2011 to 2014 as partner, she founded the NI practice of Begbies Traynor PLC before becoming Chief Executive at Houston Hunter. Ms Houston was a founding member of the Insolvency Licensing Committee and Chairman since 2007 at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland and its Chartered Accountant Regulatory Board (CARB). She also sits on the Professional Standards Committee and as CARB Council representative for the UK Joint Insolvency Council. In 2012 Ms Houston was elected as NI Representative (having previously been NI Chairman) of the UK Association of Business Recovery Professionals Council – R3. She is a member of NI Insolvency Rules Committee. Ms Houston has served as a General Commissioner for Tax for 20 years and as Governor, Chairman and Finance Director at Hunterhouse College.

9. Mrs Sharon Smyth lives in Ardstraw, Co Tyrone with her husband Mervyn and four children. A designated Certified Banker, Mrs Smyth worked as a Relationship Manager in the First Trust Bank for over 35 years and stills retains her membership with the Institute of Bankers. Mrs Smyth had responsibility for a variety of client relationships across a number of sectors including agriculture, retail, manufacturing and construction. Following early retirement in 2013, she opened her own Business and Financial Consultancy business SME Smyth Business & Financial Consultant. Mrs Smyth works with a variety of organisations including: Countryside Rural Agri Partnership, Rural Support, Derry City and Coleraine Borough Councils as well as Enterprise NI – Business Start-Up (formally known as NI Small Business Loan Fund). Mrs Smyth currently volunteers as Chairperson of “Ardstraw Against Trafficking”, an anti-human trafficking awareness group. Mrs Smyth has also travelled extensively with various missionary organisations, travelling as far as India, the Andaman Islands, Zimbabwe and Romania; working with those who are severely disadvantaged and in need.

10. Mr Richard Solomon lives in Belfast and is a self-employed Barrister specialising in Commercial, Corporate, Civil, Land, Litigation and Intellectual Property Law. From 1990 to 2005, he was Director of Laser Electrical, the Caroline Group and Solomon & Peres group of companies with a combined turnover in excess of £25million. Following this, Mr Solomon worked as a Solicitor at MKB Russells, ABR Plc and Sheldon and Stewart, dealing in Commercial, Corporate, Banking, Litigation and Franchising Law. From 2013 Mr Solomon has been a Director of the Victims and Survivors Service, a public appointment for which he receives remuneration of £125 per day, and Panel Member of the Legal Services Agency.

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