Northern Ireland

‘Unfortunate backlash’ causes male speaker to withdraw from International Women’s Day event in Newry

Billy Dixon has withdrawn as keynote speaker for the event to mark International Women's Day
Billy Dixon has withdrawn as keynote speaker for the event to mark International Women's Day

The male speaker for an event to mark International Women’s Day event in Newry has said he had “regretfully” withdrawn for the talk.

Bangor-based image consultant Billy Dixon said it “saddens” him to step down from the event organised by Newry, Mourne and Down district council.

It comes after the council came under fire for booking the personal marketing and image consultant as its main speaker.

Although the event on Friday is to be hosted by BBC Radio Ulster presenter Lynette Fay, and features other women guests including Niamh Quinn, the founder of charity Advocacy Vsv which helps victims of sexual violence, and Ukrainian refugee Daria Yakovenko, the choice of a male as speaker sparked ridicule.

Several MLAs were among those who criticised the decision to book Mr Dixon, including Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who said the announcement was “mortifying”.

But Mr Dixon confirmed on Monday that he has notified the council of his decision to withdraw from the event.

“In light of recent events, I regretfully announce my decision to step down as speaker at the International Women’s Day event in Newry, Mourne and Down,” he told The Newry Reporter.

“Over the years, participating in this event has been a source of inspiration and empowerment as we strive for gender equality and amplify women’s voices.

“It saddens me to withdraw my involvement, particularly given this year’s theme of “Inspire Inclusion,” and to see the unfortunate backlash the event organisers are facing.

“However, amidst this disappointment, I would like to shed light on an issue close to my heart and one I had hoped to discuss at the event: the value of humanity.

“The exploitation of young girls and women by criminal gangs and human traffickers, is a crime that persists in plain sight across Ireland’s towns and cities and demands our collective attention.

“I encourage you to learn more about the invaluable efforts of organisations like Invisible Traffic and further educate yourselves on how to safeguard our youth.

“Together, let’s work towards a future where every individual is valued and protected.”

The council had last week defended its decision to book Mr Dixon and said inviting “a male speaker emphasises our commitment to inclusivity, encouraging a collective understanding that gender should not be a barrier to shared inspiration and empowerment”.

The council has been contacted for further comment.