I am the head of the Brussels arm of APCO’s geopolitical practice, Global Solutions. We advise political leaders, CEOs and high profile individuals, helping them to navigate reputational challenges, crises and complex geopolitical issues. We combine the disciplines of strategic communication, stakeholder engagement, public affairs, research and intelligence gathering, litigation and crisis management.
Unusually for the public affairs industry, I’ve come in from the non-profit sector. My first eight years in Brussels (1999-2006) were with thinktanks (CEPS and the International Crisis Group) where I led research and advocacy on the Balkans and other troubled areas. I then spent another eight years (2007-2014) with Independent Diplomat, a non-profit consultancy. It gave me a taste for high politics and coalition-building, which led me to APCO.
Before Brussels, I was the central campaigns manager for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (1993-96) and was myself a candidate in the 1996 elections leading to the peace talks (and a back-room boy in the talks themselves). I then worked on democratisation projects for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Bosnia and Croatia, just after the wars (1997-98).
My Proudest Achievements
I must be a bit discreet about precise details, but the story is this:
A private sector client from a country that wants to join the EU was subject to a malicious and politically motivated prosecution by the government, under communist-era legislation which had not been adapted to the free market and which would anyway need to be repealed as part of the EU accession process. He faced a potential jail sentence.
We put the case to the European Commission and European Parliament that this misuse of the legal process by the government was a serious breach of the rule of law, on which the accession process is based.
The European Parliament then passed a resolution recommending, rather strongly, that this specific law should be repealed, and all prosecutions under it should be dropped forthwith. Our client was almost immediately notified by the prosecutors that they were not taking proceedings against him any further. Needless to say, he was pretty satisfied with our work.
- Clare College Cambridge (1989): BA in Natural Sciences (specialisation Physics with Astrophysics).
- Clare College Cambridge (1991): M Phil in History and Philosophy of Science.
- Queen’s University of Belfast (1997): PhD in History and Philosophy of Science.
English, French, German and Dutch.
My Interests outside work
Both this year (2019) and two years ago (2017) I was the administrator of the Hugo Awards, the longest-running and most important awards for science fiction. They are part of the World Science Fiction Convention for each year (Helsinki in 2017, Dublin in 2019). Not surprisingly, I read and watch a lot of science fiction (my favourite show is Doctor Who) and write it all up on my blog.
I also follow the politics of my native Northern Ireland closely, and am the BBC’s regular talking head on election results broadcasts. (The Gore Vidal principle.)
I use Twitter perhaps a bit too compulsively, and was designated one of the top 40 online #EUInfluencers in both 2017 and 2018.
My Favourite Brussels anecdote
I was in a one-on-one meeting once with a small country’s Minister for European Affairs. It was slightly rushed because he was being lined up by his ambassador to do the Zaventem run, and also he kept on being interrupted by phone calls.
I wondered vaguely why he didn’t just turn his phone off (especially since he answered every call with a terse “I’m in a meeting, call me back later” in either English or his own language), and then it occurred to me that he might be waiting for one particular call.
And then his phone rang again – not with the usual ring tone but with the music of the March of the Imperial Storm Troopers from Star Wars – “POM POM POM pa-pa-POM pa-pa-POM”. The minister looked relieved and took the call. It was the Prime Minister.
It was particularly funny because The Prime Minister was a short, jolly but sharp guy, who really did not look like a storm trooper of any kind, imperial or otherwise. So perhaps I was getting an insight into the real dynamics of internal government communication. Or perhaps just into the sense of humour of the Minister for European Affairs.