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CAFRE College Advisory Group (CAG)

The College Advisory Group (CAG) is an Expert Committee responsible for providing advice at a strategic and operational level to the management team of College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) on the delivery of CAFRE programmes for the Northern Ireland Agri-food industry.

The group was established in January 2007 and reports to the College Director, Martin McKendry. 

The Group comprises a Chair, and 13 members.  Each member has been appointed to represent various sectors relevant to the role and work of CAFRE. The appointment information can be found here.

The Chair of the Group is Maynard Mawhinney.

From left to right: Mr Harold Johnston (Intensive Livestock- Dairy), Mr Roy Lyttle (Production Horticulture), Dr Esther Skelly-Smith (Equine), Mr. William (Bill) Harpur OBE, (Environment), Mr Malcolm Emery (International Relations), Mr Seamus McMenamin (Extensive Livestock -Red Meat), Mr Maynard Mawhinney (CAG Chairperson), Mrs Elaine Willis (Food Processing), Mr Barclay Bell (Arable Crops), Dr Kevin Morgan (Higher Education), Mr Ryan Mortimer  (Intensive Livestock-Pigs),  Mr Craig Blaney(Agri-Food Business Development), Mr Martin McKendry, CAFRE Director.
Not pictured:  Mrs Deborah O’ Hare (Education). 

College Advisory Group Members

Maynard Mawhinney was appointed Chair of the Group in 2021 and is an experienced Board Member with a demonstrated history of working in the Agri-Food industry. Maynard is agri-food advisor to BDO and an independent food consultant as well as the current Chair of the Finance and Performance Committee of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. He was Director of Food, Drink and Commercial Tourism at InvestNI from 2003 – 2013, working with strategic partners to develop Agri-Food strategies.  Maynard has also served as a Board Member to the Health & Safety Executive (NI), an Independent Interview Board Assessor for the Commissioner for Public Appointments NI, a Business Coach through Mentoring Concave and a member of the CAFRE College Advisory Group representing the Food Processing sector.


Craig Blaney has a vast amount of experience within the Agri-food Business Development sector having worked for 5 years in Finnebrogue in which he managed and co-ordinated PR Marketing. His next role was within Valeo Foods IE in which he looked after around 15 company owned and agency brands and was responsible for conceiving, costing and implementing PR, marketing and brand strategies.  In 2018, Mr Blaney began his own business Airtight Creative, where he works to advise businesses and guide them through the development of their strategic plans and supports the implementation of their long and short term goals. He is also the Deputy Mayor of Ards and North Down Borough Council and is Member of both the Regeneration and Corporate Committee’s. He was appointed as a Non-Executive Director to the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland in August 2022 and is also a Board Member of the Northern Community Leisure Trust and the YMCA for North Down.


Barclay Bell has considerable experience in the Agriculture Industry, farming an 8th generation farm at Rathfriland, County Down, with the enterprises including cereals, sheep, and beef cattle. Diversification has also played a role on the farm with a cut flower enterprise and wind turbine. Mr Bell is an experienced Board member, a Past President of the UFU (2016-2018), current member of the UFU Seeds and Cereal Committee, Chair of the NFU Regional Board and a Trustee of the Air Ambulance NI. He is also Vice-Chair of the Ulster Arable Society and Chair of the Arable sub-group of the Greenhouse Gas Implementation Partnership as well as a member of an Arable and Environmental Business Development Group.


Deborah O Hare has been Principal of The Wallace High School, Lisburn since 2009. Previously she was Principal of Portadown College and has held a range of leadership positions in Antrim Grammar School, Methodist College and Banbridge Academy. She has a BA honours degree in French, a Post Graduate Certificate in Education, a Master’s degree in Educational Management and a Professional Qualification in Headship (PQHNI). Deborah is a former President of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, Northern Ireland (ASCLNI); a former member of the Education Committee of the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), and is a regular contributor to consultations on a range of education, mental health and financial policy across primary, post-primary, FE and HE sectors. She is a current Board Member of the South Eastern Regional College (SERC) where she is Deputy Chair of The Education Committee and a member of The Audit and Risk Committee.


Diane Ruddock is the External Affairs Manager for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and has been an employee of the conservation charity since 1986.  She currently represents the Trust on a number of bodies including the DAERA Rural Development Programme Monitoring Committee and the Strangford Lough and Lecale Partnership Advisory Committee.  She is also a Board member of Northern Ireland Environmental Link.  


Bill Harpur is a fulltime farmer operating a birth to slaughter Aberdeen Angus beef herd within the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). For over 25 years he has participated in Environmentally Sensitive Area schemes, Countryside Management and the Environmental Farming scheme. Mr Harpur currently acts as chair for the Ulster Farmer’s Union (UFU) Environment Committee. As part of this role, he was heavily involved in developing the UFU Farming with Nature scheme. He is a past Chair of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust which enabled him to oversee a partnership organisation promoting environmental management and sustainable development. He has active participation in a CAFRE Environmental Business Development Group in which he presented a video showcasing low carbon beef production that went on to be shown at last years COP 26 summit.  Mr Harpur also had a previous 36 year career in teaching, including 12 years as a head teacher and was awarded an OBE for services to Education in Northern Ireland


Dr Esther Skelly-Smith is a practicing Equine Veterinary Surgeon and is the practice principal of Shanaghan Veterinary Services. Previously she worked within the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, the Gleno Veterinary Centre and the Equine Dental Clinic in Hillsborough. Esther is a partner in her family farm and has successfully led the diversification of the farm into sport horse breeding. She has competed at national level in a range of equine disciplines including dressage and side saddle. She is also the Honorary Secretary and equine advisor to the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and the Association of Veterinary Surgeons practicing in Northern Ireland.


Seamus McMenamin has a large amount of experience within the Red Meat sector. He graduated from Queens University Belfast with a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Rural Development and Project Management.  Over a period of 12 years he was employed by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) in various capacities including Farm Quality Assurance Manager, Market Analyst and Agricultural Economist. These roles allowed him to work closely with all the major red meat processors within Northern Ireland and in the delivery of a number of bespoke projects. Between 2014 and 2020 Mr McMenamin was a member of the Senior Management Team in LMC gaining him valuable experience. Most recently, he has taken on the role of Sector Manager for Sheepmeat, Livestock and Organics for Bord Bia while also assisting colleagues in supporting the Irish Beef sector. These roles in addition to his farming background has given him a strong understanding and ability to represent the Red Meat sector.


Dr Kevin Morgan has worked in the Higher Education sector for over 12 years, including 9 years as a researcher and over 3 years as a Lecturer and is currently employed at Queens University Belfast. Dr Morgan has a BSc honours degree in Chemistry and PhD in Catalysis and specialises his teaching in chemistry and chemical engineering delivering both undergraduate and post-graduate programmes while also being involved in the development of content for new programmes. He has a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He also has several certificates awarded by the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) in areas of University Co-ordinator, Mentoring and Support Learning in a Digital Age, from the Microsoft Educators Centre, and from Advance HE for External Examiners. Dr Morgan is a Chartered Chemist while sitting on the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Education Division Committee in addition to being elected to the RSC Ireland Regional Steering Committee. In addition, he has been appointed to the Royal Irish Academy multidisciplinary committee for Physical, Chemical and Mathematical Sciences based on his work in Chemical Education Outreach and public communication.


Malcolm Emery has 25 years’ experience in business both as an owner and as a manager and has extensive experience at a senior level in the retail and commercial sectors.  He previously held positions of CEO of NI Seafood and Rural Support, Development Director of Utility wise and Business Development Director of Carillion Energy Services. Malcolm graduated from Greenmount College in 1984 and holds an MSc in Agri-food Business Development from the Ulster University. Throughout his career he has developed a range of industry contacts across the world including Australia, Hong Kong, India and France. 


Harold Johnston has over 35 years’ experience of the Dairy farming sector and has had success in several competitions, most notably First place in the 2020 Ulster Grassland Society “Grassland Farmer of the year” competition. Harold has a long career of service to the farming community, having been a Board member of Dale Farm Co-Op since 2011, a position which has given him insight into the processor side of the industry.  He is also currently President-Elect of the Ulster Grassland Society, a member of South Antrim Dairy Group and was County Antrim chairman of the Ulster Farmers Union in 2005.


Ryan Mortimer  has considerable experience within the Poultry Industry and is a qualified professional with a BSc Agricultural Technology with Professional Studies Degree awarded by Queens University Belfast. For 5 years he managed a team within Moy Park where he reviewed standards and practices relating to animal welfare, sustainability and food safety, while leading and implementing programmes, protocols and policies to meet industry standards in addition to improving animal wellbeing and productivity. He also worked as a meat and poultry tutor in which he delivered meat and poultry industry skills NVQ’s to meat plants and butchers. He is currently an RSPCA Assured Field Assessor for poultry farms across Northern Ireland where he is communicating directly with farmers and the issues the industry is facing first hand. He also works on his 3rd generation family farm which comprises of goats, sheep and cattle and runs a large sheep and beef share farm alongside his brother.


Roy Lyttle owns and manages his farm near Newtownards where he grows, processes and packs a range of vegetables crops for supply to the retail multiples and also to local independents.  Roy is a member of the Agricultural Wages Board, has been a past chair of the UFU Vegetable Committee and is a member of the Northern Ireland Horticulture Forum. He is also the Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors for Regent House Grammar School and Chairman of Loughries Integrated Primary School Board of Governors. In 2016 he won the Wildlife Friendly Farmer of the year award at the prestigious Farming Life/Danske Bank awards. 


Elaine Willis  Is has over 25 years of experience in the Agri-Food Processing Industry and is currently the Retail Operations Director in the Linden Food Ltd (2016-present), part of the ABP Food Group, which supplies red meat products to major retailers and Food Service businesses. She has responsibility for the management of two food processing sites at Linden Retail, Dungannon and Kettyle Irish Foods, Lisnaskea; with a total of 350 employees. Her responsibilities encompass everything from sales and marketing strategy for key retail customers to Operations, Technical, Health and Safety, Planning, Supply Chain and Purchasing, New Product Development and Innovation, People Management, Training and Development, as well as Sustainability Strategy implementation. She has a BSc Hons Degree in Food Science and Technology from Loughry College and was previously the Head of Innovation and Business Development at Linden Food Group (2007-2016).