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24 Sep 2021

The overarching theme of the CCBS 22nd Annual conference was “Testing the health of conditions for post-Brexit cooperation: The evolving political and social contexts”, and (as in previous years) the event engaged a range of key decision and policy-makers as well as leading civil society representatives from across the island of Ireland, Great Britain and Europe. The keynote speakers and panel discussions explored how we can maintain and strengthen relations in the challenging context of Brexit.

The Conference Keynote speakers 

  • Madeleine Alessandri | Permanent Secretary | Northern Ireland Office
  • Paul Narain | US Consul General to Northern Ireland

Panel discussions focussed on

  • the evolving political context(s) and how these may encourage (or not) cooperation and relations within and across these islands, as well as between these islands and the (rest of the) EU.
  • the evolving social context(s) and how these may encourage (or not) cooperation and relations within and across these islands, as well as between these islands and the (rest of the) EU.
  • the issue of designing policy and legislation that avoids creating obstacles to cross-border mobility (including cross-border working) and cooperation, and that exploits collaborative work approaches to address common challenges or to exploit opportunities.
Tweets relevant to the Conference can be viewed using the hashtag  #CCBSconf

Conference speakers

Madeleine Alessandri

Madeleine Alessandri


Permanent Secretary | Northern Ireland Office

Madeleine Alessandri is the Permanent Secretary for the Northern Ireland Office.
Previously she was the UK Deputy National Security Advisor and Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Resilience and Security. She joined government service in 1988 and has held a wide variety of positions in the Diplomatic Service and in National Security in the UK and overseas.

Paul Narain

Paul Narain


US Consul General to Northern Ireland

Paul Narain took up his duties as U.S. Consul General in Belfast in August 2021.  He most recently served as Political & Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Sweden.  Mr. Narain’s previous assignments include service as Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, and, prior to that, as Deputy Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Greece.  In Washington, Mr. Narain has served in the Operations Center – the Department’s crisis management hub – and on the Executive Secretariat Staffs of Secretaries of State Rice and Clinton.  A career member of the U.S. diplomatic service since 2002, he has also served in Azerbaijan and twice in India.

Aidan O'Kane

Aidan O'Kane


Co-Chair | Cross Border Workers

Aidan O’Kane is Vice President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce as well as a Director at Allstate Northern Ireland, a company that employs 2400 people across NI including Belfast, Derry and Strabane  Aidan is also Co-Chair of the Cross Border Workers Coalition – an alliance of individual employees who are resident in the Republic of Ireland but work in Northern Ireland and businesses who are concerned about the impact of restrictive cross border tax legislation. The group was established in March 2020 and originates from the North West (Donegal / Derry).

Aidan lives in Claudy, is married to Allison and have 4 young children, Anna, Catherine, Cormac and Cillian. When he is not leading global IT teams, Aidan enjoys spending time at his local martial arts club and is ranked 1st Dan blackbelt in Ju Jitsu within the World Ju Jitsu Federation.

Dr Ann Nolan

Dr Ann Nolan


Director | Trinity Centre for Global Health

Ann Nolan is an Assistant Professor in Global Health in Trinity College, Dublin and Director of both the MSc in Global Health and the Trinity Centre for Global Health (TCGH) in the School of Medicine. She is technical specialist in HIV and sexual health with research interests in the politics of public health, the transnational dimensions of health, and inclusion health. Ann is a former Executive Director and Chairperson of HIV Ireland Ltd and has led the development of global policy frameworks for adolescents and most-at-risk young people with UNICEF and UNAIDS.

Brian Dougherty MBE

Brian Dougherty MBE


North-West Cultural Partnership and Londonderry Bands Forum

Brian has been involved in the voluntary and community sector as a volunteer and paid worker for over 25 years working primarily in Unionist/Loyalist communities. For 10 years he was a development worker for the Tullyally and District Development Group and for 7 years, Director of St Columb’s Park House Centre for Reconciliation in the city and is currently working with the North-West Cultural Partnership and Londonderry Bands Forum.

In 1998 he was appointed as the community development representative on the N.Ireland Civic Forum and in 2001 for 5 years, he was an independent member of the inaugural Northern Ireland Policing Board. He is currently a Governor at Foyle College, Chairperson of the North-West Cricket Union and a board member of Cricket Ireland and Institute F.C. In 2003, he won the Business in the Community Sieff Award for Community Enterprise awarded by HRH Prince Charles at Highgrove estate.

In January 2007, Brian was awarded Member of Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to the community in Northern Ireland and is a 2012 fellow of the Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Brian has a Masters degree in Town Planning from the University of Manchester and is currently studying for a Phd at Ulster University looking at the Londonderry Bands Forum and their leadership role in Londonderry.

Professor Brigid Laffan

Professor Brigid Laffan


Director | Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Brigid Laffan is Director and Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Director of the Global Governance Programme at the European University Institute (EUI), Florence. She was Director of the European Governance and Politics Programme until August 2020. In August 2013, Professor Laffan joined us after leaving the School of Politics and International Relations (SPIRe) University College Dublin (UCD), where she was Professor of European Politics. She was Vice-President of UCD and Principal of the College of Human Sciences from 2004 to 2011.

Previously, she was the founding director of the Dublin European Institute UCD from 1999 and in March 2004 she was elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. She is a member of the Board of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, the Fulbright Commission (until September 2013) and was the 2013 Visiting Scientist for the EXACT Marie Curie Network.

Dr Nicola Brady

Dr Nicola Brady


General Secretary | Irish Council of Churches

Dr Nicola Brady is the General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches and Joint Secretary of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting where she facilitates relationship-building between Christian churches on the island of Ireland and collaborative action on issues of shared concern to member churches. She has a PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Her thesis examined the response of the Catholic hierarchy to political violence in Northern Ireland (1921-1973) and the Basque Country (1936-1975). With Dr Susana Bayó Belenguer she is co-editor of Pulling Together or Pulling Apart: Perspectives on Nationhood, Identity and Belonging in Europe (Peter Lang, 2019). She is an Eisenhower Fellow and a Director of Christian Aid Ireland and the Maximilian Kolbe Foundation.

Eoin O'Keefe

Eoin O'Keefe


Assistant Programme Manager | Glencree

Eóin joined Glencree’s Community and Political Dialogue Programme as an Assistant Programme Manager in September 2020. Prior to this, he spent six years working as the Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) in Dublin. In this role, he was responsible for a number of policy areas including: Justice and Home Affairs; Security; International Development; and, Brexit issues. While at the IIEA, Eóin wrote a series of blogs and papers on prominent issues as well as creating a programme of keynote lectures with leading speakers from around the word. Previously, Eóin worked for the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) in Warsaw and for a number of NGOs across the EU. Eóin has a Master’s Degree in Peace and International Development Studies from the University of Limerick and a Master’s Degree in Humanitarian Action (NOHA) from University College Dublin.

Dr Helen McAvoy

Dr Helen McAvoy


Director of Policy Institute of Public Health

Dr. Helen McAvoy graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a primary medical degree in 1997 and worked for several years in both hospital and general practice. She completed her MD in 2000 as part of the Masters in Health Promotion programme NUI Galway. She has worked on a number of government programmes relating to ageing and older people. She is now working as Director of Policy with the Institute of Public Health focusing on progressing the government’s health inequality agenda in Ireland and Northern Ireland. In this role, she has contributed to a number of reports and policy papers on inequalities in maternal and child health, fuel poverty, tobacco, alcohol and inequalities in the border region.

Jess Sargeant

Jess Sargeant


Senior Researcher, Institute for Government

Jess is a senior researcher at the Institute for Government working on devolution and Brexit, with a particular interest in Northern Ireland and the operation of the Protocol. She joined the Institute in May 2019 from the House of Lords Library. Jess previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Constitution Unit, University College London where she researched referendums.

Kate Clifford

Kate Clifford


Director, Rural Community Network

Kate holds the post of Director of RCN since April 2013, having previously worked as a Rural Enabler (Institutions) within RCN’s Rural Enabler Programme working to support the development of peace and understanding within and between institutions such as the Orange Order, the GAA, Churches and others. She also worked with these institutions to address issues of sectarianism and racism.

Kate is a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, with a BSc in Agricultural Economics and Management and an MSc in Rural Development. She has a strong background in creative thinking techniques, facilitation skills, research techniques, and supporting groups in the areas of project development and implementation. Kate tutored on the QUB MSc programme in Rural Sustainable Development and the NUI Galway Community Development Practice Diploma course.

Nichola Mallon

Nichola Mallon


Minister for Infrastructure

“Nichola Mallon is the SDLP Minister for Infrastructure and MLA for North Belfast. Nichola is a graduate in Economic & Politics from Trinity College Dublin and has a Masters from Queens University Belfast in Comparative Ethnic Conflict. She was elected as a SDLP MLA for North Belfast in May 2016. Previously she represented the Oldpark DEA on Belfast City council for six years and was the Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2014.

Nichola is focused on transforming lives for citizens across the North. Committed to social justice, Nichola has always sought to represent the needs of all in society especially those who have been left behind. In her Ministry Nichola has set out her ambition to better connect communities, tackle regional imbalance,  transform communities through place shaping and tackle the climate crisis, socio-economic inequality and protect our society from the damage of Brexit.”

Pete Shirlow

Pete Shirlow


Director, University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies

Professor Peter Shirlow (FaCSS) is the Director at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies. He was formerly the Deputy Director of the Institute for Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, QUB. He is the Independent Chair of the Executive Office’s Employers’ Guidance on Recruiting People with Conflict-Related Convictions Working Group and a board member of the mental health charity Threshold. He is a Visiting Research Professor at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. He sits on the editorial boards of Irish Political Studies and International Planning Studies.

Professor Shirlow has undertaken conflict transformation work in Northern Ireland and has used that knowledge in exchanges with governments, former combatants and NGOs in the former Yugoslavia, Moldova, Bahrain and Iraq, He has also presented talks to members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and is a regular media contributor.

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