March 2016 releases

Queen's School of Law welcomes announcement Wellbeing will be at heart of new Programme for Government

The School of Law at Queen's University has welcomed confirmation by the First and Deputy First Minister that an outcomes framework, focused on wellbeing, is to guide the work of the post-election administration in Northern Ireland.

During their final appearance at the Assembly’s Committee of the First and Deputy First Minister, First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that an outcomes-focused Programme for Government is in the early stages of preparation, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described how the outcomes framework would focus on wellbeing. Mr McGuinness went on to cite the work of the Northern Ireland Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing convened by Queen’s School of Law in collaboration with the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (CUKT).

Dr Peter Doran from Queen’s School of Law, said: “It has been a year since the School and the CUKT published the report of the Carnegie Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing in Northern Ireland. The OFMDFM’s plans to encourage a more collaborative approach to policy delivery, steered by cross-departmental outcomes, are in line with recommendations in the Roundtable report on placing wellbeing at the heart of our system of government, with an ever greater focus on citizen engagement in the policy process.”

Head of the School of Law at Queen’s, Professor Sally Wheeler, said: “We welcome the comments of the First and Deputy First Minister, noting that the policy contribution by the work of the Roundtable was an example of the societal impact Queen’s is committed to under the Vice Chancellor’s 2020 Vision.”

John Woods, School of Law, added: “The Roundtable recommended seven steps towards placing the wellbeing of citizens at the heart of government and since the publication of our report, a number of positive developments have taken shape.

"An outcomes framework in the Programme for Government will form the lynchpin for a series of far-reaching changes, focusing on a more collaborative and impactful approach to policy. At the heart of government and across civil society and the private sector there is a palpable desire for a more engaged, collaborative approach to living well together. An important dimension of collective wellbeing is an effective democracy.

“We are launching a new video that identifies the actions that the NI Executive and others have taken to begin to put wellbeing at the heart of the government of Northern Ireland. This is accompanied by a short briefing paper (attached) which examines each step by identifying the key questions around implementation.”

Jen Wallace, Head of Policy at CUKT added: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our stakeholders on this issue for their interest and enthusiasm for the recommendations of the Roundtable. We will continue our work on wellbeing in Northern Ireland and are actively exploring our next steps.”

To discuss the issue further, or for further information, contact Dr Peter Doran ( or follow the Northern Ireland Roundtable on Measuring Wellbeing on Twitter @NIwellbeing.


Media inquiries to Communications Office. Tel: 028 90 97 3091 or email 

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Joint report issued on Growing up in Interface Communities

A joint report produced by Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, released today (Friday 25th March), sheds new light on the risks encountered by young people and children growing up in places of high religious segregation.

Produced for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, a devolved Northern Ireland government department in the Northern Ireland Executive with overall responsibility for the running of the Executive, the report assesses what types of risk affected young people and children growing up in places of high religious segregation or interface communities.

Interface communities are areas in Northern Ireland where segregated nationalist and unionist residential areas share a physical boundary. Within Belfast these are the sites most commonly linked to sectarian violence and social deprivation. Within this report the authors looked at a series of risks faced by youth and children linked to that violence, both sectarian and non-sectarian, alcohol and illegal drug use and wider behavioural problems.

It was found that the risk and experiences of harm and violence may have negative impacts upon development, emotional well-being and future prospects of youth and children. As such the aim of the report was to gain a better understanding of the types of risk that young people and children encounter to help develop appropriate responses in terms of aiding better personal and community development with regard to health, work, education, fear and prejudice and wider opportunities.

The report found that many young people’s lives are negatively affected by risks tied to violence within and between communities, exposure to drink and drugs, conflict within the home, transgenerational exclusion, behaviour problems in school and low aspirations.

The research found that there was a link between those most at risk and their behaviour and attitudes, as well as the relationship young people and children have with their families. The more trust and interaction they had in a family relationship, the less likely they would be of engaging in risky behaviour.

Professor Peter Shirlow, Blair Chair and Director of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, said: “What this research shows is that there are links between emotional and mental well-being, and engagement in sectarian and other anti-social behaviours and crime. We also observe that those who engage in sectarian behaviour tend to identify much more strongly with being Catholic or Protestant than those who never or rarely engage in such activity. Although youth and children generally experienced the same level of sectarian violence against them, their reaction to it was different. Those who had good family relationships were those less likely to respond to those experiences.

“Therefore what is interesting is that in terms of engaging in anti-social or sectarian behaviour is the link with mental well-being, youth adjustments problems and crucially family relationships. This would suggest that in terms of tackling issues of risk within interface communities, it is important to assist families to deal with risk, anger, youth adjustment and emotional and mental health issues. This is a departure from other ideas that concern how best to tackle sectarianism in such communities.

Dr Clare Dwyer from the School of Law at Queen’s University, added: “In the past, conflict within and between communities, was linked to ideology, experiencing harm and the role of groups in shaping forms of community response to violence. What is found here is that the link to identity, sectarianism and violence is related to family cohesion, emotional well-being and levels of risk aversion. This research provides a platform for the development of responses to ensure these risks are eradicated or at the very least diminished.”

The full report, entitled ‘Growing Up On an Interface: Findings and Implications for the Social Needs, Mental Health and Lifetime Opportunities of Belfast Youth’, can be found online at

Media inquiries to Professor Peter Shirlow, University of Liverpool 07786943138 or 07341781799 or Dr Clare Dwyer, Queen’s University 028 9097 1021

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Royal Television Society Award success for Queen’s students
Dr. Stephen Farry MLA; Declan Keeney, Queen’s; Yasin  Bektasoglu Editor, The Mountain and Michael Wilson, Chair RTS NI & MD UTV
Dr. Stephen Farry MLA; Declan Keeney, Queen’s; Yasin Bektasoglu Editor, The Mountain and Michael Wilson, Chair RTS NI & MD UTV
Caral Ni Chuilin MLA; Declan Keeney Queen’s; Kelda Crawford McCann; Conn McKemott Filmmaker, I Call to the Living and Mourn the Dead
Caral Ni Chuilin MLA; Declan Keeney Queen’s; Kelda Crawford McCann; Conn McKemott Filmmaker, I Call to the Living and Mourn the Dead

Queen’s students have triumphed at the Royal Television Society’s NI Student Awards, taking home three of the four awards on offer.

The winning Film Studies students from Queen’s were Connor Brennan from Dunmurry, (writer and director) for ‘The Mountain’ in the Drama Award category; Gerard Donnelly from Newry (writer and director) for ‘Summit’ in the Comedy and Entertainment Award and claiming the Factual Award was Conn McKermott from Belfast for ‘I Call to the Living and Mourn the Dead’’.

The RTS NI Awards recognise the importance of education within the television and media industry, and provide media students the opportunity to showcase their work to top industry professionals.

Dr. Declan Keeney, Pathway Convenor Film Studies, at Queen’s, said: “The creative sector in Northern Ireland is flourishing and Queen’s is proud to be producing the kinds of graduates with the skills necessary to contribute not only to the creative aspects of film and television production, but also the business side. I congratulate the winners and all the nominees for their creativity and know that in their hands, the future for the creative industries here looks very exciting.”

Now in their third year, the Awards are supported by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure as part of Creativity Month. DCAL Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, said: “These are exciting times in the Creative sector and I congratulate the RTS for providing valuable training and networking opportunities for creative students who will hopefully go on to become commercially successful producers and make a significant and profitable impact in the sector.

“By celebrating innovation and creativity through these awards, we are not only supporting the work created by young people but we are celebrating their entrepreneurial endeavours while acknowledging the fact that education plays a crucial part in shaping their skill base. “

Presenting awards to the winners, the Minister for Learning and Employment, Stephen Farry, said: “I am delighted to be able to participate in the Royal Television Society’s student awards and have been very impressed by the high standard of the work screened this evening. The Creative Industries are one of the major growth areas of Northern Ireland’s economy and this event highlights the creative talent of our students. I wish them success in their future media careers.”

Following their regional success, the winning students are shortlisted for the national RTS Student Media Awards which will be held in London later this year.

Further information on Film Studies in the School of Creative Arts at Queen’s is available online at

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Release of the cancer incidence and survival statistics for Northern Ireland 2010-2014

The Queen’s University N. Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) today released the number of new cancer cases diagnosed (incidence) in Northern Ireland in 2014. Website available at: Legislation designating the NICR as an official producer of cancer statistics came into place 01 April 2012.

The yearly average of incidence for patients diagnosed 2010-2014 is presented as a stable estimate of incidence in Northern Ireland (NI), and in various geographic groups. The release also updates cancer incidence trends and survival statistics 1993-2014.

Key facts and figures are presented below.

Cancer incidence 2010-2014

  • In the period 2010-2014 there were 4,426 male and 4,393 female patients diagnosed with cancer each year during 2010-2014 (excluding 3,450 cases per year of the common but rarely fatal Non Melanoma Skin Cancer [NMSC]).
  • Excluding NMSC the odds of developing a cancer by the age of 75 was 1 in 3.4 for men and 1 in 3.8 for women.
  • Cancer risk is strongly related to age with 62% of cases occurring in people over the age of 65 and incidence rates greatest for those aged 80-89 years.
  • The most common cancers diagnosed among males between 2010 and 2014 were prostate (24% of all cancer in males), colorectal (15%), lung (15%) while the most common cancers among women were breast (28% of all cancer in females), colorectal (12%), lung (12%).

Cancer incidence trends

  • Over the ten years from 2005 to 2014, the number of cancer cases (excluding NMSC) has increased among men from 3,619 to 4,486 (an increase of 24%) and from 3,648 to 4,454 among women (an increase of 22%). These increases are largely due to our aging population.
  • After adjusting for age, there was a steady increase in cancer incidence rates in males between 1998 and 2011, followed by a decrease from 2011 to 2014 by an average of 2.4% per year. In contrast, since 1993 female incidence rates have shown a continuous increase by an average of 0.8% per year from 1993 to 2014. These changes reflect increasing rates of lung cancer linked to smoking trends among women and increasing breast cancer incidence.

Incidence rates by socio-economic deprivation

  • Cancer incidence is 14% higher in the most deprived communities compared to the Northern Ireland average and 8% lower in the least deprived communities. This varies significantly by cancer site with incidence of head & neck, oesophagus, stomach, lung, male-colorectal, bladder and cervix cancers higher in more deprived areas and incidence of melanoma and prostate cancer higher in the least deprived communities.

Survival statistics updated

  • Over 54% of all cancer patients survived five years after diagnosis. Over 20% of patients died within 6 month of diagnosis, while over 70% of patients were alive one year after diagnosis.
  • Five-year net survival rates for patients diagnosed between 2004 to 2008 were as follows: female breast (80.9%), colorectal (54.6%), prostate (87.6%), lung (10.5%). These survival rates have all shown improvement compared to patients diagnosed in the period 1993 to 1999, though gains in lung cancer survival were slight. Improvements in survival are expected to continue in the period 2010-2014.
  • Marked improvements in colorectal cancer one-year survival have been observed, increasing from 77.3% for patients diagnosed 2005-09 to 81.5% for those diagnosed between 2010 and 2013. This appears to be a consequence of the introduction of the Northern Ireland bowel screening programme with an increase in patients diagnosed with early stage disease among those in the screened age group.

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s University Communications Office Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5310 Email: 

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Queen’s University autism expert calls for improved services and support for people with autism

A world-leading autism expert is calling on the Northern Ireland government to take action to improve the support and services available to people with autism and their families, in line with international standards.

Professor Karola Dillenburger from, Queen’s School of Education, is the author of a new report on autism in Northern Ireland, funded by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).

Around 200 children every month are referred for an autism diagnosis in Northern Ireland, but more than 2,000 children are currently awaiting a diagnosis. Professor Dillenburger says these children and their families face a higher risk of poverty and inequality.

The report, entitled ‘Helping the most vulnerable out of the poverty trap and reducing inequality’ is an examination of the impact of autism in Northern Ireland and includes key recommendations for the transformation of existing autism policy and practice.

Key findings are as follows:

  • Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety figures state that just over two per cent of school children in Northern Ireland have autism, but survey data suggest the actual figure may be higher. Adult autism rates are unknown.
  • 51 per cent of people report knowing someone with autism. Autism awareness in Northern Ireland is high. Knowledge about autism is good and attitudes towards people with autism are positive.
  • The cost of autism across a single lifetime is estimated at £0.9-1.5 million. In the UK, the total cost per year is estimated at £34 billion. Most of this is due to lifetime care costs and unemployment of individuals with autism and their families.
  • The cost of bringing up a child with autism is estimated to be six times greater than for other children.
  • Early intervention that is based on Applied Behaviour Analysis is recognised internationally as best practice and can enhance the quality of life of people with autism and save up to £1 million across their lifetime.
  • These kinds of early intensive Applied Behaviour Analysis-based interventions are not available in the statutory sector in Northern Ireland.
  • What passes as ‘early intervention’ in Northern Ireland is brief and variable. In many cases, it constitutes a one-off awareness raising visit to families.
  • Staff training for those who provide support and services for those with autism is very basic. Professional autism training at local universities is under-utilised.
  • Unemployment in families directly affected by autism is up to 20 per cent higher than in other families. Many parents give up work to care for their children.
  • Children with autism miss school 8-13 days per year more than other children, while 20 per cent are bullied 20 per cent are frequently excluded (for example, excluded from certain activities or being asked to stay at home when there are school trips).


The report makes a series of recommendations that would have a significant impact on individuals and families affected by autism, including improved staff training, early diagnosis and interventions for children with autism, improved training and employment for adults with autism, and additional support for families.


Early diagnosis and intervention vital

Professor Dillenburger, Director for the Centre for Behaviour Analysis at Queen’s, said: “The evidence suggests that at the moment the scales are tipped firmly against individuals with autism towards poverty rather than equality and inclusion. The key to rebalancing the scales lies in early diagnosis and early intensive behavioural intervention for children with autism, and improved training for those who work in education and health services.

“There is extensive and unequivocal evidence that early intensive interventions, based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), can enhance the quality of life of individuals with autism and their families and result in significant cost savings. The time taken to refer children and from referral to diagnosis means that these children are not being reached early enough, when brain plasticity is greatest and interventions are likely to have the greatest impact. Without this the outlook is bleak.

“While the Minister for Health has promised £2 million to reduce diagnostic waiting lists, none of this funding has been allocated to the early behaviour analytic interventions that are so vital in the early days following a diagnosis.”

Untapped expertise

Professor Dillenburger is a globally renowned expert in autism and Applied Behaviour Analysis. She recently gave evidence to a Parliamentary Hearing in the Czech Republic on the evidence for Applied Behaviour Analysis and has since agreed to work in partnership with Masaryk University in Brno to develop the Czech Republic’s first professional course in Applied Behaviour Analysis. Professor Dillenburger developed similar courses at Queen’s.

Speaking about professional training for those who work in autism support services in Northern Ireland, Professor Dillenburger said: “Without well trained staff, Departments cannot fulfil their role in reducing poverty and inequality for people with autism.

“Northern Ireland’s universities have a wealth of expertise in ASD and autism interventions, with Queen’s offering two distinct Masters degrees that are relevant, the MSc in Autism Spectrum Disorder and the MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis, that is delivered in an online/blended format. We also offer relevant undergraduate training through our Open Learning Programme.

“Unfortunately, these courses were omitted from the Northern Ireland Autism Strategy. So while we are in a positon to provide much-needed training for those who work with families affected by autism that is sought after internationally, locally our expertise remains an untapped resource.”

The report ‘Helping the most vulnerable out of the poverty trap and reducing inequality’ is available online at

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thur-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 53100 Email:

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Those living near peace lines more likely to have poor mental health

People living close to peace lines in Northern Ireland have worse mental health than the rest of the population, according to researchers at Queen's University Belfast.

The study conducted by researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen's, indicates that living in an area in close proximity to a segregation barrier, or peace line, increases a person’s likelihood of being on antidepressant medication by 19 per cent and on anxiolytic medication, which inhibits anxiety, by 39 percent.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. It is the first study of its kind to examine the effect of residential religious segregation on individual mental health across the Northern Ireland population.

The study aimed to determine the risk of poor mental health based on proximity to segregation barriers. Looking at all 18-74 year olds across Northern Ireland, and then at those living in close proximity to any one of 40 peace lines, the research team analysed information from the Enhanced Prescribing Database for Northern Ireland to explore the prescribing of medication for depression or anxiety among the general population, compared with those living in physically segregated areas.

Lead researcher Dr Aideen Maguire from Queen’s Centre for Public Health, said: “Neighbourhood segregation is known to be a fundamental determinant of physical health, but its effects on mental health are less clear. Northern Ireland is unique as it contains physical manifestations of segregation, in the form of dividing walls separating two religious communities.

“Mental health among those living at peace lines is a major concern, with more than one in five individuals living there receiving antidepressant medication compared to one in eight in the rest of the population. After adjustment for other factors likely to affect mental health - including levels of deprivation, population density and crime - those living in peace line areas are 19 per cent more likely to be prescribed antidepressant medication and 39 per cent more likely to be prescribed medication for anxiety, compared to those people living in other similar areas with no segregation barriers.

“There are calls across Northern Ireland for peace lines to be removed. Our research indicates that the links between proximity to these barriers and poor mental health should be taken into consideration in discussions around this issue. If these barriers were to come down, the impact of their removal on mental health should be examined carefully.”

The research focussed on a two-year period from October 2008 to September 2010. For more information on Queen’s Centre of Excellence for Public Health visit


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) at Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5310 or

Notes to editors:
1. Dr Aideen Maguire is available for interviews.
2. The Enhanced Prescribing Database (EPD) is a centralised collation of all medications dispensed to the Northern Ireland population in community pharmacies.
3. The research paper ‘Residential Segregation, dividing walls and mental health: a population-based record linkage study’ was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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Queen’s chemists devise new approach for rapidly identifying ‘legal highs’

Chemists from Queen’s University have developed a new approach which now allows for rapid screening and identification of ‘legal highs’ or novel psychoactive substances (NPS).

Conducted by researchers in Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, in conjunction with Forensic Science Northern Ireland, the project was funded by the Department of Justice’s Asset Recovery Community Scheme which uses assets seized from criminals.

Published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal, Analyst, the new approach will now enable statutory agencies to identify the actual substances contained within the legal highs more quickly, thereby enabling more prompt public health messages to be issued out to communities.

In addition, as well as allowing agencies to build a comprehensive and ‘live’ picture of which drugs are currently in circulation, it is envisaged that the new rapid identification approach will also help speed up related criminal prosecutions.

‘Legal highs’ are substances used like illegal drugs, and have been responsible for a growing number of deaths in the UK over the last decade.

Known as ‘legal highs’ because when first produced they were not covered by existing drugs legislation, they are now set to face a total ban from 6 April 2016, when the UK government’s new Psychoactive Substances Act, comes into force. The ban covers (with the exception of a number of listed compounds such as alcohol, caffeine, etc.), ‘any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect’, with those caught producing or supplying such drugs facing a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

New approach
Devised by Professor Steven Bell and PhD researcher Louise Jones in Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the new approach combines rapid screening for known drugs with in-depth analysis of new compounds.  The screening works by detecting the characteristic vibrations of the bonds within the samples by focusing a laser on the sample and measuring the energy of light scattering from it.

The vibrations are chemical signatures of the compounds, so when they have been recorded, they can be searched against a ‘library’ of known compounds. They are then either identified as known compounds or marked as new variants which can then be taken for further analysis in the laboratory.

In the Queen’s study, 75 per cent of more than 200 previously samples seized by the PSNI, could be identified immediately. In the future, it is hoped that this will allow for laboratory facilities to be freed up for in-depth investigation of those compounds identified as new and unknown.

Speaking about the work, Professor Steven Bell, said: “The production of these drugs is constantly evolving and unfortunately there have been many instances of highly dangerous variants appearing, causing multiple fatalities before the threat they posed was recognised.

“In 2014 alone 101 new psychoactive substances were identified. As a result of the new approach devised at Queen’s, we predict that we will be able to identify many more substances and at a much more rapid pace as our work in this area progresses. This will not only aid in the creation of new legislation but will also enable more meaningful information to be available to the Community, Police and Public Health agencies, with the aim of saving lives and preventing serious injury.”

Praising the work to date on the new approach, Justice Minister David Ford said: “The importance of this valuable work cannot be overstated. Legal highs continue to be a major problem on our streets and because so many compounds are available, it is very hard to keep ahead of those producing them.

“Whilst there’s still work to do, this research will help Forensic Science Northern Ireland to identify what’s in these legal highs more quickly, enabling them to identify substances and get public health messages out to communities. It is also very satisfying that this work is funded by the Asset Recovery Community Scheme which uses the assets seized from criminals to support projects aimed at preventing crime.”

Stan Brown, Chief Executive of Forensic Science Northern Ireland, added: “This rapid screening will speed up the routine front-end processes of drugs analysis in Forensic Science Northern Ireland. It makes for earlier detection of previously unknown substances which in turn speeds up the processes of declaring such substances psychoactive and therefore illegal under the new NPS legislation.”

Speaking about how the new technique could impact on the streets, Inspector Robert Murdie, PSNI, said: “By quickly identifying the substance we will be able to use new powers to tackle NPS production, supply and importation, enabling us to move further up the criminal food chain and prevent such potentially dangerous substances being offered for sale.

“Police will continue to address and confront this threat through a range of tactics and every available legislative opportunity but the drug and NPS problem can only be solved by working collaboratively with our colleagues across the health, judiciary, expert research and local communities.

“I would ask anyone who is aware of any individual involved in the supply of drugs or NPS to contact their local police on 101. Information can also be passed anonymously to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

Owen O’Neill, the Public Health Agency’s Lead on Drugs and Alcohol, said: “The PHA welcomes this initiative. Novel Psychoactive Substances pose a real threat to the health and well-being of our population. Services working with users of these substances report that these substances often cause very acute reactions presenting a real risk to life. This initiative will help further our understanding of these risks and ensure that users of these substances are well informed about the risks.”

The next stage of the work will be to begin work on live casework samples.

Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s has been ranked in the Top Ten in the UK in The Guardian’s University League Tables.  Further information on the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s is available online at


Media inquiries to Lisa McElroy, Senior Communications Officer, Queen’s University Belfast. Tel: 028 90 97 5384; Mobile: 07814422572

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