One man’s vision for the benefit of Northern Ireland as a whole

Brian McConville welcomes Carl Smith, skipper of the Azamara Pursuit, to Belfast on Wednesday
Brian McConville welcomes Carl Smith, skipper of the Azamara Pursuit, to Belfast on Wednesday

As we prepare next week to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Agreement, we turn our backs on the shambles at Stormont and instead celebrate the long-held ambition of one man.

Brian McConville is, of course, just like many other business men and women who have achieved a great deal for Northern Ireland through their pursuit of a dream or ambition, but this is his moment in amongst the Easter holidays and political wreckage.

Not quite the right word since it’s his job to refit the cruise liner the Azamara Pursuit now tied up at Harland& Wolff in a deal valued in the region of £50 million.

Well, his and the other 800 people who will spend the next three months working on the ship.

The contract is historic for many reasons.

Firstly it’s the first time in the firm’s 30-plus year history that it has carried out a refit in Belfast. It is also the first time Royal Caribbean Cruise has refit a ship in a UK shipyard and it is the first time that any cruise company has awarded complete project management responsibilities to a single fit-out company.

McConville began the business in Rathfriland with six staff in 1983, building a reputation for high end work.

In 2010 MJM opened a superyacht facility in Antibes and opened offices in Poland a year later.

In 2013 the firm celebrated its anniversary with a move to a £7m site in Newry, extended in 2016.

Between those years he rescued a large part of Mivan, securing 200 jobs , and bought Shackleton Barracks with the aim of developing a refit division for private jets.

If, as he intends, the Azamara Pursuit refit brings further work, than that is also likely to bring further benfits to Harland & Wolff. Ulster Carpets is one other firm already involved in the current project.

“This has the potential to open up Belfast for further work of this scale and to offer a major boost to the local economy,” said MJM CEO Gary Annett.

As our MLAs wander about next week looking awkward and - hopefully - feeling a bit guilty, I hope they take time to consider Brian McConville and all the others who continue to take care of business - even if they can’t.