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The Secretary of State announces four new appointments to the Labour Relations Agency

The Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, has today announced the appointment of Mrs Elizabeth Armstrong, Mr Mark Spence, Miss Orla Sheils and Mrs Sarah Havlin as the new board members of the Labour Relations Agency. In the absence of Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, these appointments have been made under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022. 

The appointments are effective from 1 September 2023. The four new members will bring significant experience to the role, coupled with their understanding of employment relations issues and awareness of the importance of good practice. 

Details of body 

The LRA is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for the Economy, offering impartial advice to both employees and employers. It has responsibility for promoting the improvement of employment relations in Northern Ireland. It provides impartial and independent services for promoting good employment practices and preventing and resolving disputes. The LRA has its origin in the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1976. Its objectives are determined by a board consisting of a Chair and nine members. 

Biographies of appointees

Mrs Elizabeth (Libby) Armstrong 

Libby has extensive human resources experience in multi-union global and cross border organisations and previously held the positions of Director of Compensation and Benefits in Bombardier and Head of Human Resources in Waterways Ireland. She has worked across both the private and public sectors in senior HR leadership roles involving strategic and operational responsibilities and led employment relations in challenging operating environments. She holds an MA in Human Resource Management and is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (MCIPD). 

Libby currently serves as a Panel Member of the Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals Northern Ireland (remuneration £200.72 per day as and when Hearings are scheduled) and has just recently been appointed to the Board of the Governing Body of South West College (remuneration £250 per Governing Body meeting). 

Mr Mark Spence 

Mark is the Chief Executive of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) the representative body for construction. In this role he is the Employer Representative to the Joint Council for the Building and Civil Engineering Industry (Northern Ireland) where employee and employer representatives agree pay rate and working rules.

He is also Managing Director of Construction Industry Futures Limited, a company owned and operated jointly by CEF and the GMB and Unite Trades Unions with the purpose of addressing industry challenges and Managing Director of Construction Federation Services Limited, a company delivering safety and environmental accreditations specific to the construction industry. 

Prior to joining the CEF, Mark had senior level experience in the local construction industry and 20 years’ senior experience in global consultancy firms advising government on infrastructure procurement. 

Mark was appointed by the then Finance Minister to the Procurement Board in 2020 (no remuneration). He is Vice-Chair of Mallusk Enterprise Park and is a former Board Member of Arbour Housing Association (no remuneration). He is also a fellow of the Institute of Directors (IoD), a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Ireland, a graduate of QUB and holds an MBA from Ulster University. 

Mark is a trustee of his local scout group (no remuneration). Mark does not hold any public appointments. 

Miss Orla Sheils 

Orla is a solicitor qualified to practice in the jurisdictions of both Northern Ireland and England & Wales. Her legal career has involved her working in private practice, for the Employment Tribunal Service, a Trade Union and public inquiries. Specialising in employment law, she brings over 20 years’ experience advising various trade union and private clients to the role. She has issued high profile, high value, and complex cases before the Central Arbitration Committee, Employment Tribunals, Employment Appeal Tribunal, High Court and Court of Appeal. A significant number of these have been multi-claimant proceedings involving large sums of compensation awarded to her clients. 

Orla does not hold any public appointments. 

Mrs Sarah Havlin 

Sarah is the Chairman of the Industrial Court of Northern Ireland. She is a solicitor by profession with an extensive background in employment law and relations, particularly in complex collective disputes. For ten years she was the Certification Officer of Northern Ireland, the statutory regulator of trade unions and employer associations with judicial functions. Sarah also holds the position of Deputy Chairman of the Central Arbitration Committee in London, which is the Industrial Court of Great Britain. She is also a former Chairman of the Agricultural Wages Board, a statutory collective bargaining authority setting terms and conditions of pay for agricultural workers, and has held several judicial and quasi-judicial roles including as a Parades Commissioner, the Boundary Commissioner and as a Legal Chairman of both the Exceptional Circumstances Tribunal for the Department of Education and the Independent Review of Decisions Panel for the Department of Agriculture. In 2022 she was retained by the Scottish Government to set up the Office of the Pubs Code Adjudicator for Scotland, a new regulatory and arbitration scheme to bring balance and fairness to the commercial relationship between Pub Owning Companies and Pub Tenants under Tied Leases. 

Current Public Appointments РBoundary Commissioner for Northern Ireland, remunerated by daily rate of £505.50. 

Terms Of Appointment 

‚óŹ Appointments will be for three years, commencing on 1 September 2023.¬†

‚óŹ Members are expected to attend approximately 10 meetings per year.¬†

‚óŹ Remuneration is ¬£5,424 per annum and non pensionable.


In the absence of Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, these appointments were made under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2022, and in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland (CPANI) Code of Practice. 

Political Activity 

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland requires the political activity of appointees to be published. None of the appointees have declared any political activity in the last five years. 

Notes to editors 

  1. Media queries should be directed to the Department for Economy press office via email at [email protected]

  2. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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