Extension to term of appointment of Members of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) Board

Date published: 22 November 2021

DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, has announced an extension to the term of appointment for seven Members of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) Board.

Daera Minister Edwin Poots
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots MLA

The appointment of Board Members Michelle Costello-Smith, Theresa Cullen, Fiona Hanna, Richard Horton, Joan Houston, Sharon Smyth and Richard Solomon will all be extended until 30 April 2022.

Mr Poots said: “These extensions will provide continuity to the AFBI Board during a period of transition, allowing new members time to bed in, and enable AFBI to continue with its important function of undertaking scientific work for DAERA.”

Notes to editors: 

1. AFBI was established under The Agriculture (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.  It is an Executive Non Departmental Public Body and is sponsored by DAERA.  AFBI undertakes scientific work for DAERA in the fields of agriculture; animal health and welfare; food; fisheries; forestry; the natural environment; and rural development and enterprise.

2. Michelle Costello-Smith, Theresa Cullen, Fiona Hanna, Richard Horton, Joan Houston, Sharon Smyth and Richard Solomon were all initially appointed by the then DARD Minister on 1 April 2016 for a first term of three years.  This was then followed by a second term of two years from 1 April 2019 and a nine month extension until 31 December 2021.

3. All appointments were made based on merit and political activity played no part in the selection process, however, the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland requires the political activity of appointees to be published.

4. AFBI Board Member positions are currently remunerated at £412 per diem.

5. These extensions comply with the interim measures in place pending the appointment of a Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland.

6. Dr Michelle Costello-Smith is a qualified medical physician from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), with a Diploma in Corporate Governance living 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 25 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. As National Medical Director her accomplishments include: developing and implementing a national medical department for the successful delivery of: all local national clinical research, national medical strategy, quality assurance initiatives with associated governance, procedural & audit oversight, compliance, regulatory and medical affairs activities, in addition to financial budgetary & personnel management.

In 2016, she took a career break from full-time work to raise her young children on the family farm in rural County Meath.

In 2021, she assisted in the National Covid vaccination rollout effort, by administering vaccines in community hubs.

7. Theresa Cullen gained an Honours degree at the University of Leeds. She has held a variety of scientific roles in the fields of Chemistry, Research & Development and Technical Sales Consultancy in the Food and allied industries. She 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. Theresa 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, specialising in Trauma Therapy and has held a number of senior Clinical Service Management roles in a range of organisations. Theresa lives with her partner in Co. Antrim.

8. With a background in finance and accountancy, Fiona Hanna is a qualified Chartered Accountant. She is an experienced independent advisor and non-executive director, and has held varied roles across many sectors during her career.

Fiona’s principle interests are in food and agriculture; with a keen eye for innovation, technology adoption and entrepreneurship across many business types, sizes and industries.

Currently Fiona’s primary role is jointly running an arable farming enterprise in County Down, managing this alongside her advisory portfolio.

Fiona is a member of the Northern Ireland Food Advisory Committee of the Food Standards Agency, and a Board Member of Mourne, Gullion & Lecale Rural Development Partnership.

Fiona is also a member of the Board of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority.

9. Dr. Richard Horton is a Chartered Engineer and lives in Belfast.  He has held research and business centre management roles at Mars Limited UK and the Harwell Laboratory UK.  From 1985 to 1989 he 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 Director for the European Network for Communications and Information Perspectives (ENCIP, France) 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, he worked as a consultant in technological innovation, strategic business development, policy and regulation at White Rose Consulting (NI).He is a member of Imperial College’s Technology Experts panel.

10. Joan Houston lives in Bangor, Co Down and as a Chartered Accountant, has previously held management positions at Peat Marwick Mitchell (KPMG), Deloitte Haskins Sells and Assistant Director at Ernst and Young LLP (now EY).  She was the founding partner for the NI practice of Begbies Traynor PLC, before becoming Chief Executive at Houston Hunter in 2015.

Ms. Houston joined Insolvency Licensing Committee Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (CAI) at inception and has been Chairman 2007 to 2019. Joan has served on CAI Professional Standards committees and Regulatory Policy Board for some 15 years and is its representative for the UK Joint Insolvency Council where she is Deputy Chair. Joan is an appointed member of NI Insolvency Rules Committee.

Ms. Houston was NI Representative 2012-2018 (having previously been NI Chairman) of the UK Association of Business Recovery Professionals Council -R3 and is now a Council member.Ms. Houston is Chair of Bryson Energy Sports and Skills, Bryson Group Board member and has served as a General Commissioner for Tax (Belfast) and as Governor, Chairman and Finance Director at Hunterhouse College.

11. Sharon Smyth lives in Ardstraw, Co Tyrone with her husband Mervyn.  A designated Certified Banker, Sharon worked as a Relationship Manager in the First Trust Bank (AIB) for over 35 years and stills retains her membership with the Institute of Bankers. Sharon had responsibility for a variety of client relationships across a number of sectors including agriculture, retail, manufacturing and construction.

Following early retirement in 2013, Sharon opened her own Business and Financial Consultancy business SME Smyth Business & Financial Consultant. Sharonworks with a variety of organizations including:Lending Manager with the NI Start up Loan fund under the umbrella of Enterprise NI,Financial Business Mentor with Rural Support:Sharon is alsoincluded within a Select List of Consultants to complete Economic Appraisals for the Rural Development Program Cooperation Scheme for Causeway Coast and Glens Council: She is aBusiness Mentor for Gearing for Growth for Mid Ulster Council: Sharon also operates a business Clinic for Small Businesses through Cookstown Enterprise Agency.

Sharon currently volunteers as Chairperson of "Ardstraw Against Trafficking", an anti-human trafficking awareness group. Sharon has also travelled extensively with various missionary organizations, travelling as far as India, the Andaman Islands, Zimbabwe and Romania; working with those who are severely disadvantaged and in need.

12. Richard Solomon lives in Belfast and has been a Barrister for over 10 years specialising in Commercial, Corporate, Civil, Land, Litigation, Chancery, Banking and Intellectual Property Law. He is qualified to practice in Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland.  Richard is also a certified Mediator. From 1990 to 2005, he was Director of Laser Electrical, the Caroline Group and Solomon & Peres Limited. Since 2013 Mr Solomon has been a Director of the Victims and Survivors Service and sits as a Civil Legal Aid Panel Member for the Legal Services Agency.

13. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.

14. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk

15. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800 hrs and 0800 hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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