Re-appointment of members to the AFBI board

Date published: 30 April 2019

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has announced the re-appointment of seven members to the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) board for a two year period with effect from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2021.


They are as follows:

  • Dr. Michelle Costello-Smith
  • Ms. Theresa Cullen
  • Mrs. Fiona Hanna
  • Dr. Richard Horton
  • Ms. Joan Houston
  • Mrs. Sharon Smyth
  • Mr. Richard Solomon

Another two members have been re-appointed for a further three year and nine month term with effect from 1 April 2019 to 31 December 2022, as follows:

  • Ms. Kate Burns
  • Mrs. Roberta Brownlee

These are regulated appointments. The re-appointments have been made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland’s (CPANI) Code of Practice.

Notes to editors: 

  1. 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 20 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 as Medical Director 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 clinical research, national medical strategy, quality assurance and related governance / procedural / audit oversight, regulatory compliance and medical affairs activities, in addition to budget & personnel management. In 2016, she made a personal decision to take a career break to spend more time raising her young children, on the family beef & sheep farm in rural County Meath. Dr. Costello-Smith was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  2. Ms. 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.
    Ms. Cullen 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. Ms. Cullen was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  3. Mrs. Fiona Hanna is a Chartered Accountant and Principal in her own Practice. She is a member of the NI Food Advisory Committee of the Foods Standards Agency. Fiona is a Board member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union and of Mourne, Gullion & Lecale Rural Development Partnership. Fiona lives on the family farm in rural County Down near Rathfriland and assists with the running of the arable business. Mrs. Hanna was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  4. 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) and is founder and Director of Carritech Research Ltd (NI). Dr. Horton was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  5. Ms. 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 since 2007. She is Chartered Accountant Regulatory Board representative for the UK Joint Insolvency Council. In September 2016 Joan was appointed to CAI Regulatory Policy Board and she is a member of NI Insolvency Rules Committee.  
    Ms. Houston was elected as NI Representative in 2012 - 2018 (having previously been NI Chairman) of the UK Association of Business Recovery Professionals Council -R3 and is now on council.  Ms. Houston is a Director of Bryson Group and Chairman of Bryson Energy and has served as a General Commissioner for Tax (Belfast) and as Governor, Chairman and Finance Director at Hunterhouse College. Ms. Houston was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  6. 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: Rural Support, Derry City and Causeway and Glens Borough Councils as well as Enterprise NI – NI Start Up 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. Mrs. Smyth was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021.
  7. Mr. Richard Solomon lives in Belfast and has been in the legal profession for over 14 years and a Barrister in Belfast for just over eight years specialising in Land, Civil Law, Litigation, Banking, Chancery, Corporate, Commercial and Intellectual Property Law. He was recently called to the Bar in Dublin and is a Certified Mediator.  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. Mr Solomon was previously a director of a number of successful entertainment, retail and media companies. Mr Solomon was first appointed on 1 April 2016 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 March 2021. 
  8. Ms. Kate Burns MSc. BSc Hons, Dip CDP, is founder and Managing Director of Islander® Kelp Ltd; growing and processing kelp as a food product on Rathlin Island and is also Principal of Burns Consulting, specialising in business and natural resource planning.
    In addition to running ‘Islander® Kelp’, consultancy work has included fishery management plans, rural development planning and preparing area based strategies for 'fishing dependent communities' under the EU Axis IV Programme and rural development planning. From 2009 to April 2013 she was Director of Community Initiatives at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, establishing programmes to assist the fishing and seafood industries deal with change and become sustainable where she first came across kelp farming. Prior to 2007 Kate was Chief Executive of the cross border local authority organisation ICBAN covering the north west of the island of Ireland tasked with implementing cross border EU Programs.
    Kate is on the Board of Belfast Met and is Chairperson of the Belfast Met Charitable Trust. She is also on the Board of the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority. Other interests include rowing, sailing, playing music, and spending time with her grandchildren. Ms. Burns was first appointed on 31 December 2017 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 December 2022.
  9. Mrs. Roberta Brownlee lives near Loughgall in Co. Armagh where her husband and son are involved in the family farm business. Roberta has had an extensive professional career in Health & Social Care in the Private, Voluntary and Public Sectors. She owns and operates a Nursing Home in Castlederg, Co Tyrone. Roberta has a particular interest in quality improvement, stakeholder engagement, governance, risk and safety management. Roberta has completed an MSc in Executive Leadership which afforded her the opportunity to study in Boston and Lusanne Business Schools.
    Roberta is presently Chair of the Southern Health & Social Care Trust Board and a member of the Care Tribunal (NI) Department of Justice. Roberta has a strong commitment to education and is a past member of the Education Board (SELB) and a past member of the Board of Governors in Primary and Post Primary Schools.
    Roberta enjoys fundraising and has spent many years raising money for a variety of charities in NI. Roberta was named in the New Year’s Honours List 2019, and awarded an MBE for her services to Charity and the Southern Health & Social Services Board. Roberta has two grown up daughters and four grandchildren. Mrs. Brownlee was first appointed on 31 December 2017 and has been re-appointed for a second term to 31 December 2022.
  10. The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) is a DAERA 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 sites across Northern Ireland.
  11. The above re-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. None of the appointees have been involved in any political activity during the past five years.
  12. Board members are paid £389 per day for a time commitment which is not expected to exceed 20 days per year.
  13. The Department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
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  15. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on: 028 9052 4619 or via email. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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