Introducing the Biographies of Our Speakers for the Upcoming Father Michael Kelly Event

February 25, 2018

With the Irish Aid Annual Father Michael Kelly Lecture on HIV/AIDS Event coming up at 5pm on the 11th December in Smock Alley Theatre, the IFGH is proud to present the biographies of each of our guest speakers and presenters.

This year’s lecture will include a video address from Father Michael Kelly in Zambia, and will be moderated by broadcaster and entertainer, Dil Wickramesinghe. The lecture will feature opening and closing addresses by Nicola Brennan, Policy Unit Director at Irish Aid and Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciaran Cannon T.D.

The 2018 special invited speakers are Dr Oanh Khuat, Executive Director of SCDI Vietnam, Rory O’Neill/Panti Bliss, HIV activist and entertainer, and Robbie Lawlor, HIV activist with Youth Stop AIDS and ACT UP Dublin.

Individual biographies will be released periodically. Updates will be announced via IFGH Social Media (Facebook & Twitter).


Professor Father Michael J. Kelly

For over 50 years, Tullamore-born Professor Father Michael J. Kelly has worked tirelessly in the fight against HIV/AIDS in his naturalised country of Zambia, and internationally, spreading the message of strength, dignity, and hope for those affected and at risk.

He worked for many years as headmaster of Canislius College in Chiseki in Zambia.

Father Michael completed his PhD studies in the area of child and educational psychology in 1974 and subsequently became a senior lecturer and Dean of the School of Education in the University of Zambia (UNZA), in 1975. He served as pro-vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellor and became professor in 1989.

He is a renowned speaker and advocate on HIV and AIDS, and has worked tirelessly to educate and promote safe behaviour among youth and those most at risk in Zambia, throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and much further afield. He is also active in other policy areas, such as strategies for HIV prevention, and human rights. A prolific researcher and writer, Father Michael has authored 15 books, and many original research articles. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Father Michael has worked as a consultant to organisations such as the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, the FAO, UNAIDS, Oxfam, Irish Aid, and many more.

Among the many honours in recognition of his outstanding work, Father Michael was awarded Honorary Degrees by University College Dublin in 2006 and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 2012. He was honoured for his work on HIV and AIDS by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign and Trade.

He recently received the Order of Distinguished Service Award from President Lungu of Zambia, in recognition of his contributions to the promotion of education, social justice and HIV/AIDs.

Rory O’Neill/ Panti Bliss, Entertainer

Rory O’Neill was born in rural Ballinrobe, County Mayo, the son of the local vet, but Rory never felt quite like the other boys. As a young man his curious spirit took him to London and Japan during which his creative wish for self-expression became the outrageous character of Panti Bliss on stage – a persona that has allowed him to channel his ‘otherness’.

Panti Bliss is now the pub-landlady of Dublin’s PantiBar and her articulate, impassioned speech in the Abbey Theatre, as one of its noble calls, led to her becoming something of an accidental icon for change during Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality, the full story of which is told in the wonderful documentary ‘The Queen of Ireland’. Rory’s own memoir Woman in The Making (Hachette, 2014), tells his coming of age story and the emergence of his alter ego Panti Bliss.

Panti continues to be an outspoken and influential voice for human rights and an advocate for those at the margins of society. She was voted TIME magazine’s 29th most influential person in the world 2016 in a reader’s poll and her recent Edinburgh Fringe show ‘High Heels in Low Places’ garnered rave reviews. She describes herself as a “Pub landlady, performer, writer, speechifier, gender discombobulist, national fucking treasure.”

Director of SCDI Vietnam Dr Oanh Khuat

Khuat Thi Hai Oanh is a medical doctor graduated from Hanoi Medical University, with a Master Degree on Sexual and Reproductive Health Research from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She co-founded the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) in 2002, and the Center for Support Community Development Initiatives (SCDI) in 2010 – both are Vietnamese non-governmental organizations. Oanh is currently the Executive Director of SCDI. Aiming at contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, SCDI focuses on community empowerment and creating enabling environments for the most marginalized and vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, drug users, people living with HIV, their spouses and children, poor migrants, ethnic minorities as well as LGBTIQA people.

In her other capacities, Oanh is the Chair of Vulnerable Community Support Platform of Vietnam (VCSPA), as well as Chair of Council of Representatives of APCASO – an Asia Pacific network of civil society organisations working on health and human rights. She is a member of the Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee on HIV and Viral Hepatitis for the WHO.
Oanh was selected to the World Fellow Program at Yale University in 2005. In 2009, the World Economic Forum honoured her as a Young Global Leader. In 2014, she was given Dedoner Clayton Award by the French Pasteur Institute and Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. In 2017, she was listed among the 50 Most Influential Vietnamese Women by Forbes Vietnam.


Dil Wickremasinghe, Social Justice and Mental Health Journalist and Podcaster

Dil is a social entrepreneur and co-founded the mental health support service Insight Matters with her wife Anne Marie Toole. Insight Matters operates out of two centres, one in Mountjoy Square and the second on Capel Street. Along with a team of 55 psychotherapists they provide low cost, inclusive and culturally sensitive psychotherapy and counselling services to over 400 clients per week. Together they hope to “inspire change in self and society.” Dil has just begun her own training as a counsellor and psychotherapist in Dublin Business School.

Alongside her work as a mental health advocate she was a dedicated Social Justice and Mental Health broadcaster and journalist for a decade where she presented the award winning weekly programme “Global Village” on Newstalk 106-108. After her departure from Newstalk in 2017 she began her own weekly podcast “Sparking Change with Dil” on the Head Stuff Podcast Network. Dil is an occasional stand-up comedian and in 2012 she made her debut in Irish theatre in Box of Frogs with Mary McEvoy and John Moynes.

In 2014 she was honoured with the Frederick Douglas Award as part of the Lord Mayor’s Awards for her outstanding contribution to civic life. In 2015 along with 9 other inspiring women Dil won the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award for her work as a Marriage Equality campaigner. In May 2015 in the week of the historic Marriage Referendum, Dil and Anne Marie were overjoyed to welcome into the world their son, who they aptly named Phoenix!

In August last year Dil and Anne Marie were thrilled with the arrival of their daughter Xavier. Dil feels Irish as after living in Ireland 18 years she is now a proud Irish citizen.

Robbie Lawlor, HIV Activist, Co-Founder of Act Up Dublin & AMI.


Robbie Lawlor from Dublin, Ireland has been an active figure within the HIV community since his own diagnosis in 2012. Providing one-on-one peer support, Robbie worked to become an event organizer in the social group organisation MeetUp Plus Friends, and is a Co-Founder of Act Up Dublin and the Access to Medicines Ireland group (AMI). He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Dublin City University, with his focus of study being the exploration of the effects the ARV stockouts have had on young adults living with HIV in Uganda.


Nicola Brennan, Policy Director, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Nicola Brennan is currently the Policy Director in the Development Cooperation and Africa Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Nicola has held this position since March 2016 and is the Departmental lead on the development of Ireland’s new International Development Policy. Prior to that Nicola held various roles in the Department including working on both bilateral partner country and Multilateral UN issues. From 2003-2008 she led the Department’s international response to the AIDS pandemic. She has also served as Head of Development for Irish Aid in South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Prior to joining the Department Nicola spent 7 years working for VSO in Indonesia.


Ciarán Cannon T.D, Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development

Ciarán Cannon is Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for the Diaspora and International Development. He is a TD representing Galway East. Ciarán is formerly the Minister for Training & Skills at the Department of Education & Skills. He was first elected to Dáil Eireann in February 2011.Ciarán was elected to Galway County Council in June 2004, to represent the Loughrea Electoral Area.Following the 2007 General Election An Taoiseach nominated him to Seanad Eireann.

Ciarán is also a strong advocate of the use of technology in education and is the founder of “Excited – The Digital Learning Movement”. He worked closely with teachers and industry leaders to make the case for the introduction of computer science as a subject in Irish schools.

Ciarán was born in Kiltullagh, Athenry and he lives there with his wife Niamh and son Evan. He is an award winning musician and songwriter and some of his work has been performed by the RTE Concert Orchestra.

He is also an avid cyclist and regularly participates in a 900km fundraising cycle for the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, a national charity caring for children and young people with disabilities. Ciarán was chosen as one of Galway’s People of the Year in March 2002.




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