A fire commander who has supported LGBTQ rights, a champion gymnast, a civil servant working with refugees and a community worker in east Belfast are among those from Northern Ireland picked for the New Year Honours list.
irefighter Karen McDowell has been awarded an MBE for her services to fire and rescue and the LGBTQ community.
Station Commander Mrs McDowell transitioned gender around 10 years ago while working and helped promote greater acceptance of transgender people within the NI Fire and Rescue Service.
“Attitudes now are very different from what they were 10 years ago,” she said.
“There would have been a lot more open prejudice and it (gender transition) wasn’t in the mainstream media the way it is now.
“People would have been afraid to express how that felt and that would have (been) prevalent.”
She added that “people now realise that those who transition are the same people they once were”. Civil servant Jonathan McMillen, an executive officer at the Department for Communities, was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to refugees.
As part of a UK-wide project started in 2015 to resettle refugees affected by the Syrian crisis, he has helped some 1,815 to find new homes in Northern Ireland.
Community worker Michael Briggs (57), executive director of the East Belfast Community Development Agency, has been made an MBE for his work over the last four decades.
Volunteering and working in the east of the city since he was 14, he has been at the helm of the East Belfast Network Centre for 18 years.
A former derelict school, the centre houses a number of community organisations which Mr Briggs helps to coordinate.
“Most times east Belfast gets a bad press, so we are trying to do something good,” he said, adding that much of his work this year had focused on rolling out a huge food programme.
“The one thing good coming from Covid is that government departments recognise the good role voluntary organisations play in society when it’s needed.” Champion gymnast Rhys McClenaghan (21) from Newtownards was awarded a BEM, in recognition of his achievements in the sport.
Already a Commonwealth and European pommel horse champion who has qualified for the Olympics, he said it was a huge honour to receive the accolade.
“I rang my parents straight away and told them the good news and they were thrilled about it. They said, ‘Are we going to have to curtsy to you coming through the door now?'”
He now hopes the added status for the sport will help to inspire a new generation of gymnasts. “I would love to see a lot more participation in the sport as well as more kids and adults being more active.
“My plans are to get stuck back into training and pull off the best results.”
Another nod for the sporting world saw an OBE awarded to Ballyholme Yacht Club’s Bill O’Hara. A former Olympic sailor and now an international race officer and umpire, he received the honour for his services to sport.
Belfast hotelier Lord Diljit Singh Rana, one of Northern Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs, has been made an OBE for his commitment to the tourism and hospitality industry.
Indian-born Lord Rana first opened a Belfast cafe in 1966, and has stayed committed to Northern Ireland hospitality ever since by founding Andras Hotels, which includes the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, two Ibis hotels and Hampton by Hilton.
Other Northern Ireland honours this year include an MBE for Amanda McNamee, the principal of Northern Ireland’s first integrated secondary school.
DUP MLA for North Belfast William Humphrey has been awarded an MBE for public service, particularly during the Covid-19 response.
Alan Black, the only survivor of the IRA Kingsmill massacre 45 years ago, has been awarded an MBE for services to the community in south Armagh.
Northern Ireland concert pianist and conductor Barry Douglas has also received a CBE for services to music and community relations.
Other high profile awards this year include an OBE for one of Britain’s leading television writers, Jed Mercurio, who is responsible for some of the most-watched dramas of recent years.
The writer and producer of hits such as Line of Duty, which is filmed in Belfast, and Bodyguard was honoured for his services to television drama.
Seven-time Formula One title winner Lewis Hamilton has finally been awarded a knighthood, following pressure on the Prime Minister to approve the honour.
Despite being one of the UK’s most successful sportsmen ever, he has reportedly been overlooked in the past due to his tax affairs.