Joanne O'Riordan, Activist, Columnist & Inspirational Speaker
Joanne O’Riordan studied criminology in UCC and is only one of seven people in the world living with a rare physical disability known as Total Amelia. This means she was born without all four limbs and even though there is no medical explanation as to why this happened, Joanne or indeed her family has never allowed it to hold her back.
Joanne first gained attention for skipping school to confront then Taoiseach Enda Kenny about his proposed plan to reduce disability funding during his election. In April 2012, she spoke before the UN and challenged the body to create technology to help disabled people such as herself. She was named Young Person of the Year at the People of the Year awards in 2012. Joanne is an activist for people with disabilities, a motivational speaker and a sports columnist with The Irish Times. She appears in the 2013 documentary No Limbs No Limits.Anne Anderson, Former Irish Ambassador to the United States
Anne Anderson was Ambassador of Ireland to the United States from August 2013 to July 2017. She was Ireland’s 17th Ambassador to the U.S. and the first woman Ambassador
Ms. Anderson was born in Ireland (Clonmel, Co. Tipperary) in 1952. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Politics from University College, Dublin, and a Diploma in Legal Studies from Kings Inns, Dublin. She entered the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972.
Following a range of assignments at home and abroad, she was promoted to the rank of Assistant Secretary General in 1991, with responsibility for Corporate Services (including Finance and Personnel issues). She took up her first posting as Ambassador in 1995. Prior to Ms Anderson”s assignment in DC, she served as Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York (2009–2013); Ambassador to France (2005-2009); Ambassador to the European Union, Brussels (2001-2005); and Ambassador to the United Nations, Geneva (1995-2001)
Some highlights of her multilateral work include chairing the WTO Trade Policy Review Body (1996), the UN Commission on Human Rights (1999) and heading the Irish team in Brussels during Ireland’s EU Presidency in 2004 (she was awarded European Voice “Diplomat of the Year” in recognition of her Presidency role). During her New York assignment, she oversaw a review of the UN Peace-building machinery and was tasked by the President of the General Assembly with facilitating preparations for the 2013 UN Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals
Breege O'Donogue, Matriarch of Penney's/Primark
Raised on a farm in Boston, near Tubber Co. Clare, Breege carved out a stellar career that saw her move from HR to the boardrooms of Ireland. Breege has until recently been a Board Member & Group Director (Business Development & New Markets) at Primark, and after 37 years now continues in an ambassadorial role, is a trustee of Primark Better Lives Foundation, and a trustee of the Primark Pension Plan.
A graduate of UCD, a Chartered Director, Breege is currently Chair of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group, Chair of Real World Analytics, Chair of The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, Non-Executive Director of Fáilte Ireland, Non-Executive Director of Shaw & Sons Ltd, a board member of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, and a member of the Outside Appointments Board (Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour).
Breege has held government appointed positions on the board of a number of state companies including An Post, Aer Rianta, Chair of Shannon College of Hotel Management, Chair of the Labour Relations Commission, and has been a Trustee and a Council Member of IBEC.
Sinead Rocks, Managing Director for Regions & Nations, Channel 4
Sinéad Rocks is Channel 4’s first Managing Director for Nations and Regions. Her role is to deliver the organisation’s ‘4 All the UK’ strategy – ensuring that Channel 4 better serves the whole of the UK and the biggest change to the structure of the organisation in its history.
She started her career as a journalist at BBC Northern Ireland before joining BBC Children’s to work on the launch of the CBBC channel. She is a former editor of Newsround as well as Executive Producer for BBC Current Affairs where she headed up the Manchester network unit and led the team making content for The One Show, Panorama, BBC Three and Daytime. Her last role for the BBC was Director of Education; driving the organisation’s overall education strategy and overseeing a range of output across TV, radio and online including BBC Food and Bitesize.
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Award-Winning Astrophysicist
Jocelyn Bell Burnell inadvertently discovered pulsars as a graduate student in radio astronomy in Cambridge, opening up a new branch of astrophysics - work recognised by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.
She has subsequently worked in many roles in many branches of astronomy, working part-time while raising a family. She is now a Visiting Academic in Oxford, and the Chancellor of the University of Dundee, Scotland. She has been President of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 2008 became the first female President of the Institute of Physics for the UK and Ireland, and in 2014 the first female President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was one of the small group of women scientists that set up the Athena SWAN scheme.
She has received many honours, including a $3M Breakthrough Prize in 2018.
The public appreciation and understanding of science have always been important to her, and she is much in demand as a speaker and broadcaster. In her spare time she gardens, listens to choral music and is active in the Quakers. She has co-edited an anthology of poetry with an astronomical theme – ‘Dark Matter; Poems of Space’.
Jo Aston, Managing Director, SONI
Jo joined SONI as Managing Director in May 2019 and joined the SONI Board of Directors in June.
Ms Aston joined SONI from the Utility Regulator, where she most recently served as Director of Wholesale Energy Regulation for more than five years. In this role, she was responsible for the regulation of the SEM on the island, in partnership with the electricity regulator in the Republic of Ireland. During this time Ms Aston led a fundamental redesign of the SEM, involving the introduction of new arrangements in October 2018 to increase competition and put downward pressure on prices.
Prior to her work in the regulation of electricity, Ms Aston was director of water regulation for seven years. She is graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, and a chartered civil engineer and has worked in the private and public sectors.
Sara Venning, Chief Executive, NI Water
Dame Rotha Johnston DBE
Dame Rotha Johnston DBE is currently a director of Wildflower Property and formerly a director of Variety Foods. She is currently a director of Northern Ireland Electricity Networks, Chairperson of Northern Ireland Screen, a member of KPMG’s Northern Ireland Advisory Board, a member of Belfast Harbour Commissioners and a director of QUBIS Ltd and Ulster Garden Villages Ltd.
In November 2018 she was appointed as a member of the Industrial Strategy Council, a new independent body set up to assess the progress of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. In the past she has been Chair of the BBC’s Finance and Compliance Committee and BBC Trustee for Northern Ireland , Pro-Chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast, Vice Chair of Invest NI, Board member of Dept of Justice and Director of Allied Irish Bank (UK) Ltd. In 2016 she was awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Northern Ireland economy and public service.
Sara Venning is responsible for the overall performance of Northern Ireland Water and the company’s continuing journey towards customer excellence.
Sara joined NI Water in April 2010 as Director of Customer Service Delivery with responsibility for water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment together with all aspects of service to customers. With a MEng in Electrical Engineering, Sara previously worked for Northern Ireland Electricity, holding a number of senior positions.June Burgess, Developer of Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast & Director of Graffan Investments Ltd
June Burgess has been Director of several successful companies and has bought, sold, built, established and developed many more over 25 years in business.
She is probably best known for her most recent success, the development in 2008 of a city centre car park into the 132 bedroom 5* Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast.
In the mid ‘90’s, June was Lead Consultant on the Clarendon Dock Infrastructure Scheme which spearheaded the redevelopment of the docks including the Waterfront Hall and Titanic Quarter. From 2000- present day June has compiled a sizable property investment portfolio in Graffan Investments Ltd and continues to manage a Pension Fund.
Alongside the hotel development, June built and directed Ballygraffan International Horse Trials from 2003-2008. She diversified from the classic equestrian event model to create country fair with extensive private and public funding, corporate hospitality, international marketing and SkySports coverage for 4 years.
This event is fully booked.