Improved engagement with civic society will leave us better placed to shape the future - Foster and McGuinness

Date published: 06 December 2016

First Minister the Rt. Hon. Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness have today announced the creation of a new six person panel promised in the Fresh Start Agreement.


The panel will consider specific strategic issues relevant to the Programme for Government and report to the Executive. Engaging with a wide range of representatives and stakeholders from Civic Society, it may also propose subjects it wishes to consider.

Ministers have now completed their consideration of panel membership and have selected the following people:

  • Peter Bunting
  • Julie Andrews
  • Marie Cavanagh
  • Hilary Singleton
  • Majella McCloskey
  • Janet Williamson

The First Minister, Arlene Foster said: “This panel is another example of us getting on with the work. It presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh approach to dealing with the strategic issues which Government deal with and which impact directly on people’s lives.

“Engagement will be crucial in informing the work of the panel and the Executive. I urge everyone in Northern Ireland with views and opinions on the matters covered by the panel, to take advantage of this opportunity to contribute to the development of a Northern Ireland which we can all be proud of.”

The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said: “Dialogue and debate with civic society is an important element of our continued social, economic and political progress.

“Creating an environment that enables inclusive, open, and respectful discussion with the wider civic society is a pre-requisite for progress. Through dialogue and greater awareness, we will be better placed to meet challenges head on.

“I wish the panel well and look forward to working with them in this programme of work which can help shape the future and life opportunities of people across the north.”

Notes to editors: 

1. Chairing arrangements will be decided by the panel acting by consensus or alternatively by rotation amongst the members.

2. Members of the Panel will receive remuneration at a daily rate of £300 and will be paid travel and subsistence costs.

3. Biographies

  • Hilary Singleton - originally from Portstewart, educated at Coleraine High School and subsequently studied law at Queen's University.  As a qualified solicitor, Hilary spent her professional career in private practice. She lives in County Armagh and currently serves as Deputy Chairperson of the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and Chair of HSENI's Audit and Risk Management Committee. She is also a Board member of the International Fund for Ireland and a member of the Local Government Staff Commission. For over twenty years, Hilary Singleton has been actively involved within the Ulster-Scots' community sector, both as a Director of Mid-Armagh Community Network and, latterly, as a member of the Ulster-Scots Agency where She chairs both the Education and Audit Committees. She has a strong interest in community-led economic regeneration and is Chairperson of the Steering Group of the Southern Zone of the Social Investment Fund.
  • Julie Andrews - grew up in Larne and attended Larne Grammar School. Graduating from Queen’s University with an LLB (Hons) Law Degree in 1993 and holding professional accountancy qualifications, Ms Andrews has worked in a number of industries including property and telecommunications. Julie Andrews joined the Linen Hall Library as its Director in April 2013 and is the first female to hold this position. Ms Andrews came to the Linen Hall after five years as General Manager of the popular arts and culture venue Spectrum Centre, based in Belfast’s Shankill area. Her extracurricular activities include sitting on the boards of Safefood, a North/South ministerial body; Eastside Arts; Ormeau Business Park and the Ulster Scots Community Network.
  • Miss Janet Williamson M.A. (Oxon) - has over 25 years experience working in education. Career began as a Geography teacher and Senior Leader in Aylesbury Boys’ Grammar School, England. Appointed Vice Principal of Wilsons’ School, England, followed by appointment to the position of Head Teacher at Antrim Grammar School. Currently is Principal of The Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Former President of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL NI), President of Headmasters and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC Irish Division).  
  • Marie Cavanagh - is Chair of NICVA and Children in Northern Ireland and vice-chair of the Government/Voluntary Sector Joint Forum. She is a member of the Board of the Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group and the Cromac Regeneration Initiative (a cross community social enterprise in South Belfast) and was Chief Executive of Gingerbread NI for 21years.  She is also a voluntary and community representative on the Children and Young Peoples Strategic Partnership and involved in numerous advisory and working groups and alliances including Early Year, Child Poverty and Welfare Reform.
  • Peter Bunting - was the Assistant General Secretary for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions from 2000 until November 2016. For that period he took lead responsibility for co-ordinating and developing the Trade Union Movement in Northern Ireland.  The Northern Ireland Committee (NIC) of the ICTU is the representative body for 34 trade unions with approximately 215,000 members across Northern Ireland, as remains the largest civil society organisation in the region.  Peter has also been involved in the following organisations: The Board of Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company; The Management Committee of Counteract and it successor, Trademark; The Management Committee of Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre; Belfast City Council Good Relations Committee; Economic Development Forum; and NI Water. A native of Belfast, Peter has been an active trade unionist since 1972.  Prior to his service with the ICTU, Peter served as General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union in the Republic of Ireland.  He holds a BA (Hons) from the Faculty of Business, Economic and Social Science, Trinity College, Dublin.
  • Majella McCloskey - is Senior Manager with the Centre for Effective Services, a non-profit organisation which works with policy makers, commissioners, service providers and frontline practitioners, supporting them to use evidence in their work with communities and families. Majella has held a number of senior roles in the community and voluntary sector. Prior to joining CES she was Chief Executive Officer of CO3, a membership organisation which supports, develops and connects Third Sector leaders in Northern Ireland. She is a former Director of fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action in Northern Ireland. She is actively involved in her community in a voluntary capacity, is a board member of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) and the Work West Enterprise Agency.

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