Following the panel discussion and keynote speech by Bernadette McAliskey, those in attendance at last Thursday’s ‘Standing up to Poverty in Fermanagh’ event had a chance to raise issues and ask questions.

Kerrie Flood, Fermanagh Women’s Aid, asked whether the conversation around poverty was happening in an “echo chamber”.

Ms Flood made the point that the event may be “preaching to the people who are converted”.

She said: “I am looking around and I see representatives of Fermanagh Foodbank here, I see the Community Advice Centre, I see Fermanagh House are here, we are the people who are doing it, in a sense, are we preaching to the people who are converted?

“When I look around the room, these are the people who I phone when I have a woman at my door who’s in pieces, who can’t feed her children that night, whose benefits are messed up. These are the people I ring and these are the people who sort it for that woman and for me.

“Do the panel have any suggestions as to what the next steps are, it is not necessarily people in this room who need to hear this, it’s the people outside of it.

Dr. Ciara Fitzpatrick replied: “That’s a big challenge, and something that people who work in this area face, that we are in a bit of an echo chamber, and I think am looking at Rodney [Edwards] here, it is up to local media platforms and to others to try and platform those views and platform social justice issues.

“I think the media has been a huge part of the problem in creating stereotypes and stigma and I think it’s time they focused on the facts and focused on the real impact of people’s situation.”

Questions from the floor came from a range of speakers, many of them from community groups including Bernie Maguire, Community Advice Fermanagh; Jill Weir representing Unison, as well as a further comment from Paul McGoldrick, a community activist.

Ms Maguire detailed some of the work undertaken by Community Advice Fermanagh including that the organisation have dealt with £3million worth of debt issues.

“We have a debt advisor sitting here that has dealt with £3 million worth of debt in the last year alone in the county that just shows the level of deprivation we have in this county.”

She also highlighted outreach clinics that Community Advice Fermanagh are hosting regarding the change over to Universal Credit.

She added: “People don’t realise the effect the move to UC is going to have on people in Fermanagh.”

Jill Weir, Unison made comments regarding period poverty stating: “People miss school days because they can’t afford pads, tampons, which you think are just basics, they are very expensive.”

Referencing how the working poor are affected, Ms Weir said: “It’s not always the lowest people, there are people whose mortgages, they now have to pay £3-400 more on their mortgages a month, it’s not always the lowest paid that come to our door.

“We have never seen as many people claiming for things in the past, fuel, we have had to do extra fuel grants, it is a disgrace what is happening at the minute.

“Period products were supposed to be available in schools and public buildings and that hasn’t happened yet either.”