Firm Profile > Carson McDowell > Belfast, Northern Ireland

Carson McDowell
Northern Ireland

Banking and finance Tier 1

Carson McDowell is a key player in the market for real estate finance mandates and is highly skilled in financing the acquisition and development of commercial and residential properties. Sinéad McGrath leads the team and has advised domestic and international banks and financial institutions on financing developments in the retail, hospitality and education sectors. McGrath is often supported by senior associate Emma Copeland, who has significant experience advising on housing association issues and residential developments.

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Other key lawyers:

Key clients

Danske Bank


Bank of Ireland UK

First Trust Bank (AIB Group (UK) p.l.c.)

Co Operative Bank


Atom Bank

Selina Finance Limited

Waterfall Asset Management

Cullaun Capital DAC

ERE Group

Fane Valley Co Operative Society

Ulster Bank / The Royal Bank of Scotland

Barclays Bank PLC

Commercial property Tier 1

Carson McDowell advises on some of the biggest property transactions in the market, with a client base that includes major foreign investors such as Threadneedle and Investec, as well as local names such as Belfast International Airport. Dawson McConkey leads the team and has a special interest in the property aspects of major energy deals. Emma Cooper is another key member and similarly has a strong focus on the energy sector. Former practice head Rosemary Carson continues to work with the team as a consultant.

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Key clients

The Belfast Harbour Commissioners

Belfast International Airport

Ulster University

McAleer & Rushe

Threadneedle Pensions/Property Investments


Rapid7 International


Investec Bank

Renewable Energy Systems

Construction Tier 1

Carson McDowell has worked on key construction projects in the region, particularly in relation to the redevelopment of Belfast Harbour.  Practice head Stuart Murphy has been leading on these mandates and is also active in advising local developers such as John Graham Construction on developments across the UK and Ireland. The team has also been strengthened with the arrival of construction contracts specialist John Dugdale from A&L Goodbody.

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Key clients

John Graham Construction Ltd

Belfast Harbour Commissioners

McAleer & Rushe

Soventix GmbH


Seagate Technology LLC

Choice Housing Association

Ulster University

O’Hare & McGovern Ltd

Southern Regional College

Corporate and M&A Tier 1

Carson McDowell is a key name in the market for corporate deals involving the energy and agri-food industries, with a growing foothold in the private equity and venture capital arenas. The 'truly exceptional' Richard Gray leads the team and advises major domestic companies including SHS Group and Lagan Investments. Neasa Quigley is a key name for energy and private equity work and was made senior partner in 2019, while Gerard Armstrong stands out for his skills in the agri-food, waste and construction sectors. Former managing partner Michael Johnston is now a consultant.

Practice head(s):


‘Richard Gray is a truly exceptional lawyer. Always patient; always takes time to explain; delivers his advice with total professionalism and, when the situation deserves, with appropriate humour.’

Key clients

SHS Group Limited

Lagan Investments Limited

Prestige Insurance Holdings Limited

Sisaf Ltd

Fane Valley Co-Operative Society Limited

Statsports Group Limited

Vinci Energies UK Holdings Limited

Options Technology Limited


Eakin Healthcare Limited

Dispute resolution Tier 1

Often instructed in High Court litigation, Carson McDowell's highly diverse expertise in dispute resolution encompasses media defamation issues, professional indemnity claims, construction litigation, debt recovery work and contractual disputes. Declan Magee leads the practice and has notable experience in major media cases involving defamation elements and injunctions; he has also been active in criminal cases involving public bodies. Senior litigator Hugh McGrattan is a key name for professional indemnity work, and has represented insurers and individuals in the legal, accountancy, architecture and engineering sectors. Darren Toombs handles debt recovery mandates and has represented liquidators, trustees and administrators, while Peter Guzhar focuses broadly on commercial litigation with additional expertise in IP issues.

Practice head(s):


‘Carson McDowell has consistently provided excellent service and advice in multiple areas of corporate law in a very prompt and effective way.’

‘Carson McDowell is an excellent law firm.’

‘What make them unique is their simple, straightforward, no-nonsense, advice.Always feel they are on your side.’

‘Declan Magee is approachable and empathetic. He looks beyond the obvious in seeking efficient resolution of commercial disputes.’

Key clients

Tayto Group Limited and Tayto

Independent News & Media NI

Sentence Review Commissioners

Alpha News Group

Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland

Northstone NI Limited


FP McCann Ltd

Wrightbus Ltd

Medical Protection Society

Employment Tier 1

Carson McDowell handles the full spectrum of employment work and is instructed by heavily unionised and quasi-public entities including Ulster University, Translink and Royal Mail. The 'very personable, efficient and hardworking' Orlagh O’Neill leads the team and is particularly strong at handling grievance and whistleblowing investigations. Rachel Penny, who is an expert in TUPE regulations and restructuring mandates, is also a key name to note.

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‘All good – all very knowledgeable, Orlagh O’Neill – very personable efficient and hard working.’

‘Sarah Cochrane has an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the various aspects of employment law. ‘

‘Sarah has the ability to think logical through issues and provide advice that is practical and effective. Sarah is familiar with the legal processes and can proceed quickly and efficiently to a resolution.’

‘Strength and depth across a wide range of legal topics, allowing quick responses whatever the issue.’

‘Orlagh O’Neill – strong, consistent, pragmatic and commercial, Orlagh is the first port of call for all Human Resource related matters. Advice is clear and sensible and with strong commercial focus, allowing us to deal with issues early and, often, once only.’

‘From working with Orlagh and the team over the last 10 years I can honestly say their professionalism, quick response and expert knowledge and experience in employment law are their key strengths.’

‘I have complete confidence in them as a team that they are providing our business with the expert advice that we need to ensure we remain complaint and reduce our risks of facing complex legal challenge. ‘

‘Orlagh O’Neill and Sarah Cochrane have both been stand out names for me. Both have were keen to understand our business before providing the relevant expert experience. They both provide me with the confidence that no matter what employment law challenges we face they are at the cutting edge of the latest thinking and keep us abreast of what’s happening in the courts so we get ahead and adapt our internal policies/process when necessary.’

Key clients

Ulster University

Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners (Foyle Port)

Royal Mail Group Limited

Grand Opera House Trust

Concentrix CVG Intelligent Contact Limited


Hampton Conservatories Limited

Xilinx, Inc.

Association of Optometrists

British Medical Association

Energy, project finance and PFI Tier 1

The practice at Carson McDowell runs the gamut of corporate, commercial and finance work relating to energy projects, and also draws on the support of planning and environment specialist Gary McGhee. Neasa Quigley, who leads the team, is an expert in energy-related corporate transactions. Project finance work is primarily handled by Sinead McGrath, while property work is Emma Cooper's core area of expertise. Gerard Armstrong has extensive experience in PFI/PPP work.

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Key clients

TCI Renewables Limited

Belfast Power Limited

ESB Renewables Limited

System Operator for Northern Ireland Limited (SONI)

RES (UK & Ireland) Limited

firmus energy Group

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Limited

Brookfield Renewable Ireland Limited

Gore Street Capital

Wind Renewables Income Holdco 2 Limited

Intellectual property Tier 1

Carson McDowell is very active in licensing, enforcement and registration matters with a strong emphasis on the life sciences, engineering and technology sectors. Litigator Declan Magee is a key name and is highly skilled in the electronics and engineering industry. Peter Guzhar is another notable name for disputes, particularly in relation to patent infringements. For non-contentious work, Dawn McKnight is strong credentials for IP contracts involving the life sciences, manufacturing and technology sectors.

Practice head(s):


‘Strong teamworking and a professional approach to delivering a high-quality service for the client has been evident throughout. ‘

‘The team are very personable and approachable, take the time to explain their thinking and reasoning that underpins their advice and guidance. This is always clear and precise.’

Key clients

Tayto Group Limited and Tayto (NI)

STATSport Group

Prestige Insurance Group

Lowe Rental Limited

Linen Mill Studios

SISAF Limited

Denroy Plastics Group

Innovation Ulster

Firmus Energy

University of Ulster

IT and telecoms Tier 1

With expertise in both contentious and non-contentious matters, Carson McDowell has built up a strong reputation in the market for advising traditional companies on digital transformations, as well as advising tech start-ups on licensing and development issues. Dawn McKnight is the key name of note and advises on IT contracts, hosting agreements and cybersecurity. Peter Guzhar brings another dimension to the practice with his expertise in software patent and copyright disputes.

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Key clients

STATSports Group


Vinci Energies UK Holding

McLernons Computers

Gig Grafter

ISDM Solutions

Tailored Image

Ulster University and Innovation Ulster

Evermore Energy

Department of Finance

Atos Partners

Firmus Energy Supply

Caversham Finance Ltd t/a Brighthouse

Graphical Data

Personal injury and clinical negligence: defendant Tier 1

The 'excellent' Carson McDowell has 'expertise in all areas of civil litigation, including industrial disease claims' and 'experience in handling the defence of complex investigations'. Managing partner Roger McMillan, who jointly leads the team, has extensive experience in handling clinical negligence claims. Fellow practice head Claire Harmer focuses on personal injury cases involving motor and work accidents, with expertise in examining employer's and public liability. Jacqueline McAleese splits her time between Belfast and Dublin and is an expert in clinical negligence claims. Newly promoted partner Catherine Carton is well regarded for public and employer liability claims.

Practice head(s):


‘Excellent client-focused firm providing comprehensive advice.’

‘Claire Harmer is knowledgeable, insightful and a top quality lawyer.’

‘Strong technical knowledge in the litigation team. Very experienced solicitors. Expertise in all areas of civil litigation, including industrial disease claims.’

‘Experience in handling the defence of complex investigations.’

‘Readily approachable. Provide prompt and detailed advice. Always prepared to consider our views and that of our clients’

‘There is real strength across the whole team. They communicate well and give pragmatic, well considered advice based on excellent attention to detail and analysis of the claim. They are tactically astute. ‘

‘Jacqueline McAleese and Roger McMillan stand out. They are technically excellent lawyers and negotiators. They are approachable and a pleasure to work with. They inspire confidence in the advice and tactics they recommend.’

‘Jacqueline McAleese is an exceptional solicitor – she is technically excellent, an adept strategic thinker, calm in a crisis and extremely knowledgeable in her field. ‘

‘Roger McMillan is fantastic, he goes above and beyond to deliver service at all hours of the day (and night!) and is extremely canny/robust – a great person to have in your corner.’

Key clients

Belfast Harbour Commissioners

Travelers Insurance

Axis Capital



Faraday Insurance

Chubb Insurance

Davies Casualty/Garwyn

TT Club/Thomas Miller Claims Management

Crawfords Specialist Liability


Riverstone Insurance

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Limited

Beale & Co


Medical Protection Society

Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland

Dental Protection

National Pharmaceutical Association

Association of Optometrists

Beazley Group

Personal tax, trusts and probate Tier 1

Attracting praise for being 'approachable', 'knowledgeable' and 'instilling trust and respect', the team at Carson McDowell has a strong track record of work on high value and cross-border estate administration and planning. Neil Bleakley leads the team and has recently advised on estates valued at as much as £250m, with extensive experience in disputes over the interpretation of wills and trusts, as well as mental capacity matters. Associate Fiona Kirkpatrick is another key name, and has strong experience of handling high value trust administrations.

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‘Carson McDowell consistently provides first class legal advice for their clients – they are highly regarded.’

‘Neil Bleakley and Fiona Wallace of the private client department provide excellent advice to their clients. They are approachable, knowledgeable and instill trust and respect in their clients’ minds.’

Planning and environment Tier 1

Carson McDowell has 'unrivalled strength in providing planning and environment advice in NI', and the team is described as having 'set itself apart in the planning litigation sphere'. Practice head Gary McGhee has a primary focus on planning and environmental law, with extensive experience in planning applications, appeals and inquiries. Grant McBurney is another key name and is particularly strong in on waste and contaminated land matters. Associate Sarah Dunlop is also highly recommended.

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‘This practice has unrivalled strength in providing legal planning and environment advice in NI. All the lawyers we have used in this practice are extremely professional and have an exceptional level of expertise.’

‘The practice has set itself apart in the planning litigation sphere in Northern Ireland – particularly in the quarrying and minerals sector. Their knowledge and expertise have brought great insight into our cases.’

‘Our partner at the firm has been a breath of fresh air. Their associates are always helpful and available whenever he is not and their levels of knowledge and competence are of a very high standard.’

Key clients

John Hogg Operational Limited

Odyssey Trust

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks

Ards & North Down Borough Council

Nutts Corner Circuit Limited

Southern Regional College


Lough Neagh Sand Traders

Port of Belfast

Belfast International Airport

Insolvency and corporate recovery Tier 2

With expertise in contentious and non-contentious matters, Carson McDowell has represented key names in the financial services sector including EY, KPMG and Grant Thornton. Darren Toombs jointly leads the team and stands out for his insolvency litigation expertise, acting for trustees, liquidators and administrators. Fellow practice head Sinead McGrath is adept at advisory work and has a client base consisting of major banks, borrowers and financial institutions. At the junior end of the team, Shane McVeigh is singled out as 'an excellent associate'.

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‘Carson McDowell are a very proactive and dynamic team in the insolvency and corporate recovery space in NI.’

‘They have clear direction and are very client focused. Darren Tombs and Shane McVeigh stand out in the marketplace because of their accessibility and ability to be agile and move quickly when required as well as having the knowledge required to produce results.’

‘Excellent commercial approach from the entire team. Carson McDowell have the ability to deliver the largest assignments across a broad spectrum legal areas.’

‘Darren Toombs is a trusted adviser. He is quick understand complex matters and always very responsive. Shane McVeigh is an excellent associate.’

Key clients


Van Oord Offshore Wind GMBH

WDR & RT Taggart Limited

Keenan Corporate Finance

HNH Partners

Keenan Corporate Finance

Grant Thornton NI LLP

John Graham Limited


EY Belfast

The firm: Carson McDowell LLP is Northern Ireland’s largest commercial law firm with 27 partners and over 150 staff. The firm is one of the few genuinely full-service commercial legal practices in Northern Ireland, and has a considerable reputation built upon its experience and expertise across corporate, banking, mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation, real estate, energy, renewables, regulation, planning, environment, employment, projects and procurement. The firm continues to be the favoured Northern Ireland counsel to a number of leading law firms in the City of London and internationally. It also has a strategic relationship with Dublin-based law firm, Mason Hayes & Curran, ensuring it can offer an all-island legal solution when required and is uniquely placed to advise on cross-border matters.

Types of work undertaken
Banking and finance: the firm has one of the leading specialist banking and finance teams in NI. The team has built sound relationships with financial institutions locally and across the UK and is regularly instructed by leading London law practices. It has extensive experience in project and asset finance, secured, unsecured, senior, mezzanine and subordinated lending, funds, derivatives and insurance.

Construction: Carson McDowell advises a significant number of the larger Northern Ireland contractors both locally and in relation to their projects throughout the UK and has a long history of providing specialised construction law advice to clients, offering expert advice to contractors, developers, design teams and funders.

Corporate: the firm’s experience and reputation speaks volumes and it is widely recognised as one of the leading corporate and M&A legal practices in NI. The partner-led team has over 100 years combined experience, delivering a results-driven, problem-solving approach.

Dispute resolution: this team is distinguished by the number of specialist areas covered and has unrivalled experience in insurance, product liability, personal injury, defamation, planning, environmental and intellectual property. The firm handles commercial litigation work such as contractual claims, employment disputes, contentious corporate insolvency and recovery actions. The firm has considerable judicial review and public law expertise.

Employment: this dedicated employment team is one of the busiest in Northern Ireland, acting on both contentious and non-contentious matters. It has vast experience acting for respondent companies in the industrial and fair employment tribunals as well as in the civil court system. The firm is a leading adviser on TUPE, senior executive departures, complex disciplinary and grievance issues and drafting and advising on employment contracts and policies.

Energy: this leading multi-disciplinary team advises on, among other things, project development, finance issues, power purchase agreements, renewables, energy trading and dispute resolution. The team also provides advice on energy regulation, procurement, EU and competition law, environmental law and planning law.

Intellectual property: the intellectual property team advises on both contentious and non-contentious matters and team members have significant expertise across a number of sectors

Planning and environmental: this is the largest dedicated planning and environmental teams in Northern Ireland. The firm acts on behalf of a diverse range of clients and is involved in most of the leading planning and environmental judicial reviews currently taking place in NI. Clients are drawn from every sector including: retail, transport, energy, renewables, manufacturing, mining and quarrying.

Private client: the firm is one of only a small number in NI having a specialist and dedicated private client team. The team advises across a broad range of private client issues, but has particular experience in high-value, complex estate administration and estate planning matters.

Procurement and competition: Carson McDowell is a leading NI procurement law firm, with a team of five lawyers working across both contentious and non-contentious procurement issues. The team has a wealth of experience advising both public and private sector clients on procurement law, competition and merger control issues.

Professional negligence: the firm has the largest number of lawyers working in this area in NI and has become a major defence firm in the area of medical negligence, acting for indemnifiers in this field. The firm also acts on behalf of solicitors, architects, engineers and other non-medical professionals.

Project finance and PFI: this team is highly regarded by peers and clients alike, continuing to advise clients involved in PPP, NPD and large-scale infrastructure projects throughout the UK and Ireland.

Real estate: this team, incorporating specialist licensing and property litigation sub-teams, is the largest in NI. Core strengths include site assembly and development, investment acquisitions and disposals, and it has an unrivalled stable of retail clients.

Department Name Email Telephone
Michael Johnston
Banking and finance Sinead McGrath
Banking and finance Richard Gray
Commercial Dawn McKnight
Commercial Gerard Armstrong
Commercial Richard Gray
Construction Stuart Murphy
Construction Declan Magee
Senior Partner Neasa Quigley
Corporate Richard Gray
Corporate Gerard Armstrong
Dispute resolution Declan Magee
Dispute resolution Roger McMillan
Dispute resolution Leigh Linton
Dispute resolution Darren Toombs
Dispute resolution Hugh McGrattan
Dispute resolution Claire Harmer
Dispute resolution Jacqueline McAleese
Dispute resolution Peter Guzhar
Dispute resolution Olivia O'Kane
Employment Orlagh O'Neill
Employment Rachel Penny
Energy Neasa Quigley
Energy Dawson McConkey
Intellectual Property Dawn McKnight
Intellectual Property Peter Guzhar
Intellectual Property Declan Magee
Planning and environmental Gary McGhee
Planning and environmental Dawson McConkey
Planning and environmental Grant McBurney
Private client Neil Bleakley
Procurement and competition Kerry Teahan
Procurement and competition Declan Magee
Professional negligence Roger McMillan
Professional negligence Hugh McGrattan
Professional negligence Declan Magee
Project finance and PFI Gerard Armstrong
Project finance and PFI Michael Johnston
Real estate Rosemary Carson
Real estate Emma Cooper
Real estate Dawson McConkey
Real estate Cathy Colton
Real estate Mary-Kim Doherty
Photo Name Position Profile
 Gerard Armstrong  photo Gerard Armstrong Gerard is a member of Carson McDowell’s corporate and projects teams. A…
 Clare Bates  photo Clare Bates Clare works in the healthcare team of the litigation department, and represents…
 Ashleigh Birkett  photo Ashleigh Birkett Senior Associate at Carson McDowell LLP, Ashleigh advises and represents companies and…
 Neil Bleakley  photo Neil Bleakley Partner in private client department, specialising in administration of estates, wills, trusts,…
 Deborah Boyd  photo Deborah Boyd Deborah is an Associate Solicitor in the litigation department at Carson McDowell…
 Olivia Carroll  photo Olivia Carroll An associate at Carson McDowell LLP, Olivia defends professionals in a range…
 Rosemary Carson  photo Rosemary Carson Consultant, Rosemary specialises in landlord and tenant matters and in particular the…
 Catherine Carton  photo Catherine Carton Partner
 Sarah Cochrane  photo Sarah Cochrane Sarah is a senior associate in the employment team advising clients on…
 Timothy Cockram  photo Timothy Cockram Timothy is a senior associate with Carson McDowell LLP. He works closely…
 Emma Cooper  photo Emma Cooper Partner commercial property. Advises in respect of the acquisition, disposal and leasing…
 Mary-Kim Doherty  photo Mary-Kim Doherty Partner in Carson McDowell’s real estate team. Advises in respect of the…
 Sarah Dunlop photo Sarah Dunlop Sarah is an Associate at Carson McDowell and specialises exclusively in the…
 Richard Gray  photo Richard Gray Richard is a partner and heads Carson McDowell’s corporate team. His main…
 Peter Guzhar  photo Peter Guzhar Peter is a partner in the commercial litigation team at Carson McDowell…
 Niall Hargan  photo Niall Hargan Associate Solicitor in the real estate team advising on the acquisition and…
 Claire Harmer  photo Claire Harmer Partner and specialises in defence litigation. Claire acts for a number of…
 Michael Johnston  photo Michael Johnston Michael is a consultant at Carson McDowell, having previously been managing partner…
 Fiona Kirkpatrick  photo Fiona Kirkpatrick Associate in the private client team specialising in all areas of private…
 Leigh Linton  photo Leigh Linton Partner and specialises in defending professionals in regulatory proceedings brought by the…
 Francesca Lowry  photo Francesca Lowry Francesca is a senior associate in the litigation department at Carson McDowell…
 Declan Magee  photo Declan Magee Declan is a partner and jointly heads the dispute resolution team. The…
 Rachael McAdorey  photo Rachael McAdorey Rachael is a senior associate at Carson McDowell LLP. She specialises in…
 Jacqueline McAleese  photo Jacqueline McAleese Jacqueline is a partner in the litigation department at Carson McDowell LLP…
 Shauna McAuley  photo Shauna McAuley Senior associate within the Litigation Department specialising in Professional Negligence and Dispute…
Mr Grant McBurney  photo Mr Grant McBurney Partner. Grant advises on planning and environmental matters with an emphasis on…
 Dawson McConkey  photo Dawson McConkey Dawson is a partner at Carson McDowell and advises clients on a…
 Gary McGhee  photo Gary McGhee Partner with specialist areas of practice in planning and environmental law. Types…
 Sinead McGrath  photo Sinead McGrath As a partner at Carson McDowell, Sinead heads the banking and finance…
 Hugh McGrattan  photo Hugh McGrattan Partner
 Dawn McKnight  photo Dawn McKnight Dawn is a partner in the corporate and commercial team at Carson…
 Roger McMillan  photo Roger McMillan Managing partner of Carson McDowell and head of the healthcare team. Considerable…
 Laura Menary  photo Laura Menary Laura is a senior associate within the healthcare team. Laura acts on…
 Stuart Murphy  photo Stuart Murphy Stuart heads up Carson McDowell’s construction practice and works on a dedicated…
 Stuart Nelson  photo Stuart Nelson Stuart is an Associate with Carson McDowell LLP.  Advises corporate, individual and…
 Orlagh O’Neill  photo Orlagh O’Neill Orlagh is a partner and head of the employment team. She has…
 Victoria O'Hara photo Victoria O'Hara Senior Associate in Carson McDowell’s real estate team. Victoria specialises in landlord…
 Olivia O'Kane photo Olivia O'Kane Olivia is a partner and head of Carson McDowell’s Media and Entertainment…
 Rachel Penny  photo Rachel Penny Rachel is a partner in the highly regarded employment team at Carson…
 Neasa Quigley  photo Neasa Quigley Neasa is senior partner and joint head of Carson McDowell’s corporate team.…
 Niall Skelton  photo Niall Skelton Associate Solicitor in the insurance litigation team. Niall represents insurers and clients…
 Darren Toombs  photo Darren Toombs Partner within the commercial litigation team. Darren heads up the firms debt…
Number of UK partners : 26
Number of other UK fee-earners : 74