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Roll of honours for Northern Ireland's finest from sport to academia

Northern Ireland's history-making football manager and its golden girl from Rio have both been recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours list.

Michael O'Neill and Bethany Firth were among 105 recipients from across a wide spectrum of society in Northern Ireland.

O'Neill, who guided the international team to its first ever European Championships in the summer, was awarded an MBE for services to football and the community, while Co Down swimming star Bethany, a four-time medallist for Team GB at the Paralympics in Brazil, received the same award for services to swimming.

Capped 31 times as a player, O'Neill managed Northern Ireland to their first major football tournament in 30 years and, when at France 2016, his side defied the pundits to reach the last 16.

The national boss said it was a proud day for him and and his family.

"It's a fantastic honour and totally unexpected to be honest," he said.

"In many ways I am just getting the recognition for what the team and the Irish Football Association have achieved in recent years."

O'Neill added: "It's brilliant. The whole year has been fabulous. It will probably only be when I am not in the job that I will be able to look back and realise the extent of what we all achieved. This award comes at the end of 2016 but it's actually a great way to start 2017.

"That will give me inspiration and motivation to continue to do everything possible to try to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and to do well in the games that we have ahead."

Bethany, 20, from the village of Seaforde, won three golds and one silver in the pool in Rio, making her Team GB's most decorated athlete of the Paralympics.

"I am delighted to receive such a great honour," she said.

"I can't wait to go to the palace to meet the Queen again. I've already met her once at the palace in October.

"I'd like to thank everyone who has been involved in my career so far. Nelson Lindsay my coach at Ards Swimming Club, the Sports Institute Northern Ireland (SINI), Team GB, Disability Sport Northern Ireland and of course my family - they have all been a great support and without them I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have. So this award is for them as well - as were my medals this summer.

"This is a really great end to a great year."

Other notable recipients include a knighthood for Queen's University professor John McCanny.

The internationally renowned academic, who was awarded a CBE in 2002, is an expert in microelectronics and was a key player behind the development of the Northern Ireland Science Park. He has been recognised for services to higher education and economic development.

Prof McCanny, 64, helped establish Queen's Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) at the fledgling Science Park in 2004 as a vehicle through which to forge closer links between academic research and commercial activity.

"I was completely and utterly shocked when I got the letter four weeks ago and I am still in a state of surprise," he said of his knighthood.

"Obviously I am very pleased and not just personally - the work at ECIT is not just done by one person, it's done by a very strong team of great people."

The married father-of-two from Ballymoney added: "ECIT was the flagship for the Science Park and when we opened our doors for that in 2004 there was an innovation centre opposite us that had just been opened but there was nothing else there.

"And today there are about 160 high-tech companies, from multinationals to pretty small start-ups, and there's about 2,500 people employed on the park currently. We are working closely with the Science Park to hopefully see that doubled in the next five to 10 years."

Victims' campaigner Alex Bunting was awarded an MBE.

Mr Bunting lost a leg and suffered other serious injuries when a booby trap bomb exploded under his taxi in 1991.

Sandra Peake, chief executive of the WAVE Trauma Centre support group, hailed him as a "tireless champion for victims and survivors" of the conflict.

"Alex has made an outstanding personal contribution to the cause of trying to ensure that victims and survivors of Northern Ireland's Troubles are not pushed to the margins," she said.

The former director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Sue McAllister has been made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, as has senior civil servant Leo O'Reilly, currently the permanent secretary at Stormont's Department for Communities.

Limavady woman Stella Cummings, who has volunteered for the British Red Cross for 37 years, was awarded an MBE.

Mrs Cummings, the current vice president of the organisation in Northern Ireland, said she was "thrilled and honoured".

"This recognition is for all those who give their time to help people in crisis," she said.

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