In the face of the growing poverty plaguing today’s society, Bernadette McAliskey, the keynote speaker at the ‘Standing up to Poverty in Fermanagh’ event held at South West College last Thursday, offered a message of hope. Despite acknowledging the myriad reasons for despair, Mrs. McAliskey, speaking at an event organised by the Trussell Trust, The Impartial Reporter, and the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network, expressed her inability to succumb to despair.

“I have no idea how to despair,” Mrs. McAliskey declared at the conclusion of her address, emphasising her optimism. At 76 years old, having lived through various challenges, she maintained hope, asserting, “I have not seen a problem that people couldn’t sort themselves when they put their heads together, link elbows, and realise we are all the same.”

Her speech, which passionately criticised big companies, the Tory government, greed, and the taxation of the working class, concluded on an emotional note. Mrs. McAliskey began her address with quotes from Fidel Castro and Steve Biko, asserting that “Nothing is too good for the working class” and that individuals cannot improve their situation until they liberate their minds from colonisation.

Expanding on the notion of mental colonisation, Mrs. McAliskey emphasised the need for a shift in mindset among those in poverty, rejecting the blame placed on them.

She contended, “Nothing is too good for ordinary people,” questioning who is responsible for depriving individuals of basic human dignity by withholding sufficient funds for their basic needs.

Describing society’s obsession with personal wealth and greed as the root cause of poverty, Mrs. McAliskey condemned the practice of applauding individuals for accumulating wealth and then praising them for charitable giving.

During her address, she advocated for a child-centered anti-poverty strategy in Northern Ireland once political institutions are operational. Despite labeling Northern Ireland a “failed state,” Mrs. McAliskey acknowledged the need to recognise this reality as a starting point for positive change, emphasising that one cannot fix a malfunctioning system by denying its flaws.

While outlining the work that remains to be done, Mrs. McAliskey commended existing community groups actively combating poverty, concluding her speech with a message of hope that resonated with the audience, eliciting loud applause.


“But the reason I have hope is I am 76 year of age and in all my years of living in this place, I have not seen a problem that people couldn’t sort themselves when they put their heads together, link elbows and realise we are all the same.”

Mrs. McAliskey said: “When we are changing minds the first mindset people in poverty have to change is the colonisation of that mind.

“That it is their fault that they are to blame that somebody else should say ‘look at her how can she be poor? She’s got her hair done.

“Every person that has insufficient money, there’s somebody who has far too much.”

“Poverty is the consequence of a society that is obsessed with personal wealth and greed.”