Northern Ireland National Council

The MS Society Northern Ireland Council represents people living with MS in the province and works on their behalf.

The Council is responsible for MS Society Northern Ireland’s strategy, and is accountable to the Society’s UK Board of Trustees.

The Council works alongside the staff team in Northern Ireland, as well as local MS Society groups. Together we can beat MS. Meet the council members:

Siobhan Allister

I am 55 years of age and have been married to Stephen for 29 years. We have two children, Daniel (26) and Ben (21).

I have lived with MS for seven years. I've volunteered with the MS Society for six years, involved locally as part of the Fermanagh Group in the roles of Vice-chair, Fundraiser and Lead Support Volunteer and as a Northern Ireland (NI) Council member since 2013. I am passionate about beating MS.

As a member of the NI Council I have raised awareness in schools, campaigned at events such as the All Parliamentary Group and the Prescription Charge campaign. I've attended meetings with the Regional Health and Social Care Board, the 'Meet the MS Consultant' event in Omagh and welcomed volunteers at our Volunteer Forums. I also provide support to people with MS as a Support Volunteer.

Another strength is income generation. At the beginning of 2015 we organised a successful fundraiser 'American Country Night' whereby the Fermanagh local group, worked in partnership with the Resource Centre, raising £6,500. Over the years my son and I have raised £59,744.64 in total for the MS Northern Ireland.

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Lynne Armstrong

I have had MS for almost 50 years. Throughout my 20s and 30s I struggled to combine my teaching career with looking after two young children and never feeling well. I felt lonely, isolated and frightened.

I first came to the MS Centre when I was told about the weekly yoga classes. They were a revelation because I found companionship and realised that, despite having secondary progressive MS and being confined to a wheelchair, I could still participate. I am a campaigner for the MS Society End the Wait Campaign and know this experience of public speaking has helped me to regain my confidence.

MS can be an isolating condition where friends drift away and I, as a campaigner, am determined that no one should feel they have to cope alone. I know, from social media, that many people are lonely, fearful and uncertain about their future.

From speaking to people living with MS I am aware that many will not come to the MS Society because it frightens them and reinforces their diagnosis. This perception must be changed. Through my experiences, I feel I can make a difference and am delighted to be a member of the Northern Ireland Council.

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Jennifer Coulter

Since being diagnosed with MS in October 2015 I have played an active role in the MS Society. I have developed a sound understanding of the views of others through discussions at various MS Society events.

Being elected to the Northern Ireland Council gives me the opportunity to develop my social media presence. I am active in using Twitter and Facebook to help publicise events, network and share my MS story. I feel passionately about the benefits of diet and exercise as well as a positive outlook in alleviating the symptoms of MS.

Earlier this year I was actively involved in fundraising. For the MS Society Gala Ball my husband and I collected ten raffle and auction prizes. I also frequently participate in 10k runs.

I am a talented public speaker. Earlier this year I spoke about running a business with a disability at an event run by Invest NI and Disability Action. I now plan to speak to local businesses in Lisburn and Woman in Business about "Your Health and your Business" later this year. To conclude, I am an "MS Warrior" with a great deal to offer to the MS Society Northern Ireland Council.

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Iain Crosbie

A key message I observed at the annual meeting was a need for communication, lobbying and local support. This is something that resonated with me as I am an effective communicator and have lobbied with the Director of the Society at Stormont for local services. I know lobbying locally about local issues is a major challenge, given austerity measures and proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance.

I was diagnosed with MS in 2004. In my working life I was a senior project manager for a large multinational company and worked in Europe and North America until my medical retirement in 2009. I feel my skills in managing diverse, multicultural and multilingual projects have some relevance to the council activities, as do my knowledge and understanding of governance and compliance issues. Together with other MS Society members, I was instrumental in setting up the Belfast local group and chaired for 2 terms. I have experienced dealing with newly diagnosed colleagues.

I also have been with the national MS Society Research Network since 2005,and have reviewed numerous grant proposal applications. Since 2009, I have been with the Research Network Steering Committee which is both rewarding and challenging. Becoming a Council member would be a privilege.

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Pat Crossley

I have been Secretary/Support Officer of the Ballymoney local group for almost 30 years and am aware of the day-to-day needs of people affected by MS. 

I do my best to raise awareness of MS - fundraising and speaking. I did a parachute jump which raised over £9,000.

I endeavour to build relationships with politicians, emphasising the need for services for people affected by MS. My involvement on various boards ensures I keep up-to-date with charity law and provides valuable contacts. 

I was a hospital medical records officer, retired to become a full-time mum and now enjoy a fulfilling active retirement!

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Catherine Doran, Chair

My relationship with the MS Society started long before my own diagnosis, as I previously reported on their work through my job as a journalist with the Derry Journal.

Diagnosed with relapsing MS in March 2009, I continue to use my skills as a writer to report on the work of the charity and to engage with others in the MS community. I have also given a number of public speeches about the Society's work, as well as sharing my own personal story.

I am incredibly passionate about the work the MS Society does and the wide remit it covers, especially its research work. As a member of the Foyle local group, I am a huge advocate of keeping in touch with others living locally with MS. As a young woman I try and engage with others who may need help coming to terms with their diagnosis. As I am still quite young (32) I have an affinity with those who have just been newly diagnosed and fundraise for the charity on a regular basis, hosting cake breaks and other events at my home.

On a personal level, I am married to Joe and we have two young daughters, Charlotte and Lucy. I also have a blog - www.alifecopingwithms.blogspot.com - and continually keep in touch with others affected by MS on Twitter - @catdoran.

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Christopher Harrison

My interest in the MS Society stems from my mum who had MS. She was diagnosed in 2000 and sadly passed away in 2010. I was extremely close to my mum and her condition was therefore also a big part of my life for a long time. I would like the opportunity to contribute to the MS Society's good work.

I have previously raised money for the MS Society, for instance through a sponsored cycle around Lough Neagh. I feel that I can offer skills to the Northern Ireland Council that would enable me to contribute further to the Society's work.

I am a Chartered PR Practitioner and a Fellow of Chartered Institute of PR. My day job is Director of JPR, an established and successful communications company, employing 14 people. As a past Chairman of CIPR, I was responsible for representing the views and perspectives of th CIPR's membership. I acted as the key ambassador for the CIPR in Northern Ireland, speaking at evenst, engaging with members and undertaking media activity. I also contributed to the development of the CIPR's strategy and annual plan.

It is a privilege to serve on the MS Society Northern Ireland Council.

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Tom Hunter

Firstly, I would say that it would be an honour if I was chosen to be a council member. I have relapsing remitting MS and I see the Society as a family, that not only supports me, but is there to support everyone affected by MS; ranging from those who have the condition, to family members and carers.

The main thing that I have taken from the MS Society is that I have not been shown sympathy or pity, but empathy, and this is something that I would hopefully build upon and be able to show to others. I was working as a broker in London when I started to feel the effects of my MS and after my return to Northern Ireland in 2006, for a less stressful life, I had a major relapse that led me to being diagnosed in 2008.

I have been fortunate that my business experience has enabled me to develop a skill set that the MS Society is looking for in a council member. I have now trained as a counsellor and volunteer for the MS Society two days a week offering counseling to a range of people affected by MS.

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Theresa Leavy, Vice Chair

I have two daughters - Melissa and Kiera. Melissa was diagnosed with MS in 2012 at 12 and wants a cure before she is 35.

As a parent you do all you can to protect your children from pain and suffering. I can't take MS from Melissa, but I can and will fundraise, volunteer and raise awareness.

I am a very positive person and my motto in life is 'PMA' - Positive Mental Attitude. We are grateful for an early diagnosis. We are grateful for NHS - if we lived in the Republic of Ireland or the USA could we afford treatment?

After diagnosis I didn't know where to turn. I googled 'children with MS' - with little success. I contacted two MS charities and the only one to reply was MS Society. This is where my loyalty lies. First impressions mean a lot to me.

Melissa relapsed six times within the first 18 months. Since 2012 we have raised over £7,500 and appeared on Radio Ulster Appeal for MS Society. Melissa has also won MS Society Young Person of the year 2014 and Daily Mirrors Hero of Youth Award for Fundraiser of the Year.

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Simon Matchett

I was diagnosed with relapsing MS in November 2012, aged 32. I studied Criminology and Law in Edinburgh and worked as a Practice Manager in an Optometrists until my MS became too difficult and I returned to Northern Ireland in July 2013.

I joined the Ards and North Down Group committee in early 2015 and was voted in as Chair in April 2016. I am also a Support Volunteer. I have provided information and support to newly diagnosed people and family members looking for help. I play an active role in fundraising and information days as I am passionate about raising awareness of the MS Society. I attend events and campaigns to give my support and educate myself on the condition to help me continue the work the Council does in teaching the general public about MS.

There is a large number of younger people with MS in my area, and I try to meet up each month for a chat. I like to share experiences with people, as it was a year and a half before I personally spoke to another person who had MS. It is an honour to serve on the Northern Ireland Council and help people with MS.

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 Peter McReynolds

I was diagnosed with MS at 26, but like so many of you will relate, I have probably had the condition much longer. I estimate my first relapse at the age of 18.

My background is within human rights law and politics and I currently work for a well known politician in Belfast. This role is with the public on their behalf and I wish to use the skills of research, lobbying and advocacy to take the views and sentiments of those affected with MS to the highest level.

I stood for the NI Council to ensure those living with MS are represented and have access to best treatments. Moreover, I want to ensure their families are provided with all the support necessary.

In addition, I want to change the common perception of MS and increase the general public’s knowledge. Through doing this, there are significant opportunities to boost the NI Council and increase its reach in Northern Ireland.

The NI Council has done a fantastic job up until now and I wish to build on its fantastic achievements for many years to come.

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Ivan Prue, Vice Chair

I am 42 years old, and have an aggressive relapsing form of MS. I was officially diagnosed in 2009. It was a hard pill to swallow because all I could think of was the negative side and images of the disease.

I am passionate about raising awareness among newly diagnosed young people, their families and everyone who meets me. My passion is exercise, keeping fit and enjoying life. It is infectious! I am fortunate that I can still do the things that I enjoy and will hopefully bring a 'fresh' approach to the council.

It was a real honour for me to be offered the opportunity to join the Northern Ireland Council. I want to reach out and help young folk and their families who are living with MS in some way. Hopefully I can progress new skills that I am learning in the counselling course that I am attending.

While chatting to a young MSer recently at an event, three words came up in conversation: improvise, adapt, overcome. These have stuck with me. In fact, they are printed on the back of my MS Society running vest, striving to be as positive and upbeat as possible. Life is for living and for making the most of what we can do with it.

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