The Fermanagh People’s Forum hosted by Civic Initiative sought solutions to issues such as rural affairs and poverty in Fermanagh and the surrounding area.

The event - that took place on February 17 in Fermanagh House - saw those attending coming from Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan, and expressing a belief that the issues of rural affairs, poverty and political institutions are all linked as they sought solutions for these issues.

The Fermanagh forum was hosted in partnership with Women's Collective Ireland Monaghan and Community Advice Fermanagh.

A spokesperson for the event explained: “Their opinion being that all three were interlinked and lead to further issues such as lack of funding and investment in the West, with issues with health, education and housing all deemed equally important.

“The premise [of the event] was on finding citizen-led solutions and everyone agreed that more consultation with the people on the ground was important.

"Statistics and evidence are important, but not always wholly reflective of what is really going on.”

Solutions from those attending included a cross-Border assembly to ensure the voice of the Border counties is heard where it matters. They also suggested more regional input in decision-making.

One suggestion was that those attending wanted to see MLAs and councillors more visible and accountable for decision-making.

Detailing some of the discussions, a spokesperson for the event said: “They were all delighted to hear about Fermanagh and Omagh District Council drafting an Anti-Poverty Strategy tailored for our area, but felt more exploration on what poverty actually means to people would be important.

“For example, some people deem being on benefits as being in poverty, when in reality that is not always the case, with the rising cost of private rental [homes] and mortgages, as well as a lack of childcare strategy for NI, and the cost of fuel perpetuating rural poverty in particular.

“They also felt the cost-of-living crisis was more of an income crisis than anything else. Wages are not high enough to keep up with the cost of living, and most felt that bigger businesses should be doing more to help.”

Emma DeSouza, founder of the Civic Initiative and Co-Facilitator, said: “The Civic Initiative is a large-scale citizen-led examination of key areas including healthcare, housing, poverty, culture, human rights and rural access.

"Forums are being held across Northern Ireland, and Border counties, with a follow-up to the Enniskillen forum taking place in Monaghan on March 23.

"These places are open to all and provide people with an opportunity to share their perspectives, while working collectively to find practical solutions.

“In 1998, we were promised a Civic Forum under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In the absence of political leaders delivering this commitment, we have created our own.

“Recommendations developed through the Civic Initiative project will be delivered to the Irish and British governments, as well as the Northern Ireland Assembly," she added.