Northern Ireland's Social Worker of the Year has been named as Magherafelt man Mal Byrne, assistant director of leading social justice charity Extern.

The experienced social worker took home the top prize at the prestigious NI Social Worker of the Year awards which were held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle.

Organised by the South-Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT), the awards celebrate, showcase and reward the work of social workers across Northern Ireland and help to raise the profile of social work and the positive impact it has on people's lives.

Mr Byrne, who is a former pupil of Rainey Endowed School, has worked for Extern for 20 years, across a number of projects which support people dealing with mental health issues, and tackling problem drug and alcohol use, as well as those facing homelessness.

In his current role, he has responsibility for Extern’s wide range of services aimed at supporting adults, including refugee services, drug and alcohol treatment and counselling, and housing and homelessness services.

Speaking following the ceremony, Mr Byrne said he was honoured to have been chosen for the award. “I’m very proud to receive this award, as it reflects the hard work of everybody in Extern, and their commitment to ensuring that people are given another opportunity to transform their lives.

"The inspiration for that hard work comes from those very people whom we support every day, and the courage and dedication they show as they seek a better and happier life.”

Charlie Mack, CEO of Extern, said: “Mal is a very popular and highly respected member of Extern’s sector-leading team.

"His experience and professionalism, gathered over so many years of supporting people, including some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our community, are an inspiration to all of our staff. We are delighted and very proud that he has been recognised with this fantastic award.”