Brexit expert and tourism chief among business figures honoured by Queen

Aodhan Connolly
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE former director of the Northern Ireland Retail consortium and an acknowledged expert around the Brexit debate has spoken of the "unbelievable honour" at being made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to the economy.

Aodhan Connolly, who recently left Belfast to take up a business role in Brussels, is one of a number of prominent business figures from the north named in the honours list, published to coincide with the Platinum Jubilee.

University of Cambridge law graduate Connolly, who five weeks ago took up the post as director of European Division & Head of Office of the NI Executive in Brussels, said: "I was surprised to say the least when I received the letter, and I'm delighted at the recognition.

"But while it's an unbelievable honour for me as the individual, it's collectively down to the work of Business Brexit Working Group, formed in December 2019 in response to the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to highlight the concerns of the 85 per cent of Northern Ireland business that it represents."

In that role, as well as during his decade-long tenure as the first full-time director of the NI Retail Consortium, Aodhan garnered respect across business, politics and media for his knowledge and ability to convey complex issues in a concise and clear manner.

Also recognised with an MBE each for services to the economy are Adam Murphy and his wife Sinead, co-founders of Shnuggle, the clever baby products company based in Newtownards.

Over the last 12 years Shnuggle has grown a prestigious international business, including significant growth overseas and designing and producing around 20 core products, and the company has garnered more than 50 awards for innovation, international trade, and sustainable development, including a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2019.

From humble beginnings in 2009 as an idea developed at the dining table by Adam and Sinead, Shnuggle now exports to 40 countries and is market leader in South Korea and has sales across Europe, the Americas and Asia, with its products sold online via its own website and are stocked in major retailers including Next, John Lewis, Mothercare and Mamas & Papas.

Sinead said: “We are overjoyed to receive MBEs in this Platinum Jubilee year and are delighted that our efforts in supporting trade and the economy in Northern Ireland have been recognised.

“Shnuggle will continue to grow and develop in the baby and nursery sectors and we are excited for future developments. We started with a simple purpose; to help keep babies safe, and we’ve led the way in making a baby’s first 12 months a relaxing and fun experience around the world. We have exciting plans for the future; Shnuggle really is a baby brand that is all grown up.”

Adam Murphy added: “We're so grateful to everyone who has supported Shnuggle including our customers, our parents, the investors and especially the amazing Shnuggle team. Everyone we've worked with along the way has helped to make the company what it is today and we are thankful and very proud.”

Outgoing Tourism NI chair Terence Brannigan (71) receives an OBE for services to tourism and the business community.

He has had a long and distinguished career in both public and private sector roles, beginning with spending nearly 30 years with Compass Group before becoming chief executive of Resource Group.

His many other roles have included chairing CBI, Glentoran FC and the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation, and until earlier this year he was Visiting Professor at the Ulster University Business Institute. He has also served on the board of Co-operation Ireland

Speaking last month at a Tourism NI conference he said: “During my time as chair I have witnessed real passion and pride in presenting Northern Ireland’s best face to the world as we began to reap the benefits of sustained investment in developing a world-class product.

“We have been helped in no small part by events like The Open and the huge success of Game of Thrones and more recently Derry Girls in raising our profile internationally. I'm hugely proud of how the industry responded to the pandemic with steadfastness, adaptability and a willingness to innovate, in order to survive and recover.”

One of the top honours in Northern Ireland, a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CBE), went to Tracy Meharg, permanent secretary at the Department for Communities, for public service.

Before taking up her current role in December 2018, she spend 16 years at Invest NI in a number of roles, including as executive director.

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