Barry Phillips Speech – NI Equality & Diversity Gala & Awards 2017

Posted in : NI on 4 April 2017 Issues covered:

Barry Phillips, Chairman, Legal-Island

Barry Phillips, Chairman, Legal-Island

NI Equality & Diversity Gala & Awards 2017 Speech by Barry Phillips

Lord Mayor, distinguished guests ladies and gentlemen good evening

As a business leader of a Northern Irish company for the best part of 20 years I’ve lived here long enough to witness change happen here and significant progress.

I truly believe that not only can change happen in the workplace, but that it can be driven from the workplace too. Your presence here this evening is testament to the importance you place on change, and of course equality & diversity.  I thank you for attending and for supporting this event.

We all want change in Northern Ireland as we continue to prise ourselves away from the past – a past thankfully that is already largely unfamiliar to one generation and soon another too. What we need is an effective government with “normal” left right politics driving us forward into new and better places. Until this happens, we have to expect this change to be led somewhere other than at Stormont and I truly believe a good part of it can be driven from the workplace.

You only need to look at the history of our Fair Employment legislation here, the Race Relations legislation across the water or the Equality Acts in the South for evidence that substantial change and improvement can happen in society and this can be driven from the workplace where of course the majority of people spend a much of their time.

Undoubtedly in Northern Ireland the health sector, education, charities etc have all done their bit (and continue to do so) to promote equality. But it was those in HR that were the real foot soldiers doing the hard graft implementing change bringing into life what were radical equality measures in the early 80s and 90s. Ken Belshaw from Grafton who is here tonight once talked about the unsung heroes in HR in NI from yesteryear.

When we began to put together this idea for a night recognising organisations in NI driving change there was one big unknown :

“Is there enough interest in equality & diversity and enough going on out there to celebrate and get excited about?”

Well, we were naturally delighted at the number of applications for these awards and the quality of the submissions. I can't tell you how many times the judges told me what great examples of diversity initiatives they had come across in doing their work.

The journey from an idea to an event like this can only happen when you have the support of a number of people.  It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to thank our judging panel and our sponsor for this evening, Diamond Recruitment. It took courage for Tina McKenzie to back something at a time when it was nothing more than just an idea. Tina you showed that courage and, dare I say it, foresight and I thank you for that.

I’d like to finish by saying this.  When I attended the Belfast Melia last year Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner at the Equality Commission and also here this evening, gave a speech in which he talked about his time growing up in Belfast in the 70s when everything was in monochrome. Many people in for awards this evening are going to leave this room disappointed because they haven't won. However, tonight, every single person in this room connected with any of these organisations shortlisted should be proud that they have played their part in adding huge amounts of colour to Northern Ireland and taking us away from the dreary world Michael described.

Just as we have heroes of yesteryear we have heroes here tonight and will need many more for the future too.

Lord Mayor, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen enjoy the evening


This article is correct at 04/04/2017

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