Northern Ireland Board

The Northern Ireland Board has three main roles:

  1. Policy: To consider policy and legislative changes (not including research and development or education and learning) that impact on the practice of occupational therapy and service users and provide a steer/advice for COT staff and report to Council on matters of key importance.
  2. Practice: Consider practice matters and emerging areas of practice to ensure that ethical and quality matters are addressed and identify where guidance for members may be required.
  3. Membership: To consider country-specific membership data, patterns and recruitment and retention initiatives that may require input from the Board.


The Northern Ireland Board is comprised of 8 members

Northern Ireland Board, Catherine McLaughlin, ChairCatherine McLaughlin, Chair
Catherine graduated from Trinity's College Dublin in 1997. She moved to London and working in the physical disability field at Rush Green Neurological Unit, St George's Hospital, Tooting before travelling to the Middle East to work in a neurological rehabilitation unit with both adults and children. During her time in the Middle East, Catherine travelled to Hungary and trained at the Moira Institute in the area of conductive education. At the end of the first Gulf War, Catherine returned to London to complete a Masters and continued to work in the area of neurological rehabilitation. Catherine was head hunted to participate in the design of the largest private neurological unit in the UK at the Wellington Hospital, London and held positions of both Therapy Services Manager and Head Occupational Therapist during her nine years there. In 2009 Catherine trained as a Case Manager with Harrison Associates and in 2013 set up her own private practice working with adults and teens with brain injury, complex neurological disability and complex physical disability. Catherine relocated home to Fermanagh in 2011 and provides her services in both UK and Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland Board, Siobhan Wright, Council Member & Vice-Chair
Siobhan Wright, Council Member & Vice-Chair
Siobhan graduated from the College of Occupational Therapy, Dublin in 1980. She has experience of working in mental health and older people rehabilitation. Siobhan was Occupational Therapy Service Manager for the Green Park Trust Belfast and led services across paediatrics and adult hospital and outpatient services. She has continued to lead and manage occupational therapy services in the Belfast Trust (formed in 2007) and leads teams across a number of acute and rehabilitation specialities and has recently been appointed Professional Head of Occupational Therapy Services in the Belfast Trust.
Northern Ireland Board, Ruth Watkins, Regional Unison Steward & Board Member Ruth Watkins, Regional Unison Steward & Board Member
Ruth graduated from University of Ulster, Jordanstown in 1994. She initially worked in a rotational post gaining experience in mental health, hand injuries, medicine and surgery, elderly assessment and rehab and also day hospitals. She has worked in a number of acute hospitals and is currently Occupational Therapy Team Lead for a 74 bedded Acute Elderly Care Unit in Belfast City Hospital. She is also a regular Practice Educator for occupational therapy students from University of Ulster and BAOT Regional Steward for Northern Ireland since 2008.
Northern Ireland Board, Denise Douglas, Board MemberDenise Douglas, Board Member
Denise has practiced across physical rehabilitation, elderly care, acute & community clinical settings. She has experience in clinical and operational leadership in Occupational Therapy, plus management across Allied Health. Denise is currently working in Acute Care at Home Service in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.
Northern Ireland Board, Paula Haughey, Board MemberPaula Haughey, Board Member
Paula has over 28 years’ experience working in the field of rehabilitation across various health and social care specialities within community and hospital settings. This includes work in mental health, elderly assessment and rehabilitation, outpatient hand and brain injury, intermediate care, day hospital services, acute and non-acute sites and laterally in the development and management of Reablement within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and Regionally.
Northern Ireland Board, Carmel Harney, Board MemberCarmel Harney, Board Member
Carmel Harney qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1983 and worked as an occupational therapist in In-Patient Mental Health Services in the Northern Board Area. Carmel’s clinical practice was closely aligned with an academic pathway at University of Ulster, in developing evidence based approaches to therapeutic group work for Older People with mental health problems. In 1989 Carmel moved to a lead role in Mental Health to develop and integrate occupational therapy within Mental Health day care services, working in a multidisciplinary and multiagency context, with a focus on early intervention, wellness and recovery models, pre-vocational, vocational rehabilitation and community integration. During this time Carmel held a lead role linked to Queens University Belfast for a Multidisciplinary Quality Initiative Project within Mental Health Multidisciplinary Teams. In 1993 Carmel took up the strategic role of Senior Occupational Therapy Manager providing strategic direction, management performance, quality control, budgetary and expert advices for all aspects of occupational therapy services within the legacy Armagh and Dungannon HSC Trust. In 2007 Carmel was appointed to her current role as Assistant Director for AHP Governance, Workforce Development & Training within the Southern Trust, leading the strategic professional direction of Allied Health Profession (AHP) services and influencing their overall strategic leadership within the Trust. Carmel provides advice to the Executive Director, Trust Board, HPSS Departments and Ministerial Bodies to ensure that the Trust fulfils its responsibilities in respect of the Allied Health Professions. Carmel is an Associate Certified Coach from 2013, accredited with the International Coach Federation. She is pursuing formal Coach Supervisor training to become a supervisor for coaches within the Southern Trust.
Northern Ireland Board, Dora O’Loan, Board MemberDora O’Loan, Board Member
Dora graduated from University of Ulster, Jordanstown in 1999. Since graduating she has continued to study and worked initially within Education and the Voluntary Community Sector representing the Independent Sector at strategic level to deliver the Drug Strategy for Northern Ireland. She managed a range of significant projects before moving into the Health Service. In the Health Service, she has held Lead posts within Addiction, Condition Management Programme and Learning Disability before being seconded to the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to deliver the Transforming Your Care (TYC) objective that 'no one should have a home that is a hospital' via the Regional closure of Longstay wards and community re-integration of individuals with a Learning Disability. She has a specific interest in service improvement, patient experience and strategic working. Dora is currently the Coordinator for Primary Mental Health Care Services across the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and is Chair of the Regional Mental Health Managers Forum.
Northern Ireland, Rosemary Risk, Board MemberRosemary Risk, Board Member
Rosemary graduated from the Northern Ireland Polytechnic (University of Ulster) in 1979. She began her occupational therapy career in Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry at St. James Teaching Hospital, Leeds. In the early 1980’s Rosemary specialized in trauma, pioneering therapeutic interventions for children and young people who were survivors of child sexual abuse. She worked concurrently as a visiting lecturer in the Occupational Therapy College, York for twelve years. Alongside a social work colleague, Rosemary designed and delivered a university accredited training package in communicating with children. Since returning to Northern Ireland, she has worked as a children’s therapist with children from the Holy Cross School; in suicide prevention, in areas severely affected by the Northern Ireland Troubles; as a locum occupational therapist in the Belfast and South Eastern HSC Trusts in adult mental health; as a visiting lecturer to the University of Ulster and is currently teaching part time on the occupational therapy degree course.

COT Officers who also attend the Northern Ireland Board meetings are:

Karin Bishop, Assistant Director - Professional PracticeKarin Bishop, Assistant Director - Professional Practice
Karin is the head of the Professional Practice team with overall responsibility for professional practice and policy across health and social care for the College.
Kate Lesslar, Northern Ireland Policy Officer Kate Lesslar, Northern Ireland Policy Officer
Kate’s role as Policy Officer includes promoting and raising the profile of the College and the occupational therapy profession in Northern Ireland, communicating and connecting with members and influencing elected Members and Officials of the Northern Ireland administration and other key stakeholders, including leaders in health and social care and the voluntary sector.

Recent work

The Board look at a variety of issues and gives advice to COT Officers on areas of work.
Some the issues considered in the past year are:

  • Regional Recruitment
  • Occupational therapists proposed role within community planning and Council departments
  • The Improving lives, saving money campaign
  • Workforce planning
  • Partnerships with relevant bodies eg AHPFNI, NICON
  • NI Election manifesto

Visitors to the Board have included:

  • Geraldine Teague, AHP Consultant, PHA
  • Shane Breen, AHP Consultant, PHA
  • Colin Conway, Chief Executive NISCC

The board also advises COT officers on various issues including content for events, publicity material and receives reports of activity from the Professional Practice Team, Specialist Sections, Regional Groups and papers on Membership matters.
To contact the Board:
Lorinda Sharkey
Secretary, Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 8776 7728