Northern Ireland

Council mocked over choice of man as keynote speaker at International Women’s Day event

Newry Mourne and Down Council have faced criticism over March 8 event in Newry

Newry Mourne and Down District Council is hosting an event to mark International Women's Day.
Newry Mourne and Down District Council is hosting an event to mark International Women's Day.

A council is facing ridicule on social media after inviting a male motivational guest as its keynote speaker for an event to mark International Woman’s Day.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council announced Bangor-based image consultant Billy Dixon as the keynote speaker at the Chairperson’s International Women’s Day Event in Newry’s Canal Court Hotel on March 8.

The event highlights the theme of this year’s celebrations as “#InspireInclusion”, stating it “emphasises the pivotal role of inspiring others to understand and value women’s inclusion to forge a better world”.

Although the event is to be hosted by BBC Radio Ulster presenter Lynette Faye, and features other women guests including Niamh Quinn, the founder of charity Advocacy Vsv which helps victims of sexual violence, and Ukranian refugee Daria Yakovenko, the choice of a male as keynote speaker has sparked online criticism.

The council advertised Mr Dixon’s appearance in a social media post, stating: “We are delighted to announce that motivational speaker & brand consultant, Billy Dixon will be the keynote speaker at our International Women’s Day Event. Billy has earned the reputation as a leader in personal marketing, coaching and image consultancy.”

However, responding on the X platform, users criticised the failure to select a woman as the event’s main speaker.

Former Alliance Party North Down mayor Ian James Parsley replied on Thursday: “You might want to try that again. It’s 1 March tomorrow, not 1 April.”

X user Paul Screeny wrote: “This must have been discussed before the invitation was issued, and again before the event was publicised. Did the penny not drop with any of those involved?”

Another user asked: “There were no women good enough to be keynote speaker? I despair.”

Several assembly members were among those who criticised the decision to book Mr Dixon.

Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party, said the announcement was “mortifying” while Sinead McLaughlin of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) described it as “very 1990s”.

In a statement, Newry, Mourne and Down council said:”Mr Dixon has consistently delivered compelling and insightful presentations that have captivated audiences by his content and delivery of his message, and we recognised the potential to resonate with a diverse audience and contribute meaningfully to the theme of Inspire Inclusion.

“Our goal for this International Women’s Day Conference is to foster an environment where minds and hearts are open to embracing everyone as equals.

“The decision to invite a male speaker emphasises our commitment to inclusivity, encouraging a collective understanding that gender should not be a barrier to shared inspiration and empowerment.”