Newry Council Has Defended Its Choice of a Male Keynote Speaker for International Women’s Day

Credits: Belfast Live

Newry Mourne and Down District Council has defended its choice of keynote speaker for its International Women’s Day event after facing criticism for booking a man, Billy Dixon, for the role.

The council announced the decision on X, formerly Twitter, describing Dixon as “a leader in personal marketing, coaching, and image consultancy.”

The announcement drew backlash from several assembly members, with Naomi Long of the Alliance Party calling it “mortifying,” and Sinead McLaughlin of the SDLP describing it as “very 1990s.”

In response to the criticism, the council issued a statement to BBC News NI, stating that the decision “aligns with our commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment.”

Newry council male keynote speaker (Credits: Belfast Live)

Dixon, speaking on BBC News NI’s Talkback programme, expressed surprise at the controversy, suggesting that the backlash stemmed from being labeled as the “keynote speaker” rather than simply a speaker. He remarked, “If I had been listed as a speaker, I don’t think I would have had the same reaction.”

Doire Finn, an SDLP member of the council, also speaking on the programme, noted that councillors were not consulted on the decision and expressed her concern about the exclusion of a woman from delivering the keynote speech.

She emphasized that while she wouldn’t want to exclude Dixon, there are “numerous women who would be able to undertake the keynote speech at that conference.” The controversy highlights broader issues surrounding gender representation and inclusivity in public events and organizations.

While Dixon’s expertise in personal marketing and coaching may be valuable, the decision to have a man as the keynote speaker for an event celebrating women raises questions about the council’s commitment to promoting gender equality and amplifying women’s voices.

Moving forward, the council may need to review its decision-making process for such events to ensure that it reflects its commitment to diversity and inclusivity, including giving due consideration to the representation of women in leadership roles and keynote speaking opportunities.

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