Plumbing problems remark slammed during debate on period poverty ‘scandal’

A comment about “calling out plumbers” during a council debate on period poverty has been slammed by a public representative who asked for free sanitary products to be made available in council facilities.

Ballymena Alliance Councillor Patricia O’Lynn angrily dismissed a remark at a special meeting of the council on Friday by Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner who said that provision of sanitary products in council buildings was about “logistics”.

Cllr Turner was commenting on a motion proposed by Cllr O’Lynn for the local authority to provide free sanitary products in its sports grounds, public buildings and council facilities, starting with each of Mid and East Antrim’s town halls.

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He said that if these items were freely available in some venues, they would be abused.

The Town Hall in Larne.

“We have to call out plumbers and such like in the way toilet roll is being abused.

“The idea is sound but the logistics need to be looked at,” he said.

Cllr O’Lynn said: “Periods do not stop during a pandemic. How long would it take for these extra measures to be put in place.”

She asked if sanitary products were put in toilets for free but if there was an issue where the council had to call out a plumber, would toilet roll be withdrawn if the toilet got clogged up?

“Period poverty is a very real challenge facing many girls and women in the UK.  Those experiencing period poverty are unable to access menstruation products due to financial constraints,” Cllr O’Lynn stated.

She said that according to children’s charity, Plan International, one in 10 females are unable to afford menstruation products at some time in their life.

She reported that 40 per cent of girls and women have had to use toilet roll, socks or plastic bags instead.

“Having to resort to such measures is humiliating, degrading and can lead to poor physical and mental health.

“Period poverty in a country as well off as ours is a scandal.”

Seconding the motion, Carrickfergus Alliance Councillor Lauren Gray also pointed out that “periods do not stop for a pandemic”.

She went on to say that the motion is also about “changing mindsets” by making period products “as visible as possible” and to “give girls a safe space to access products if they need to”.

Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown said: “I think we should follow the example set by the Scottish Government by making sanitary products available in all public buildings.”

Coast Road Ulster Unionist Councillor Maureen Morrow said it can be difficult for girls to access these products without having to ask for them or trying to find the cash to purchase them.

Cllr Morrow said that as well as making them available in public buildings, support could be given through the foodbanks.

However, Balymena DUP councillor Alderman Audrey Wales proposed that the council “recognises the work undertaken by the Education Minister to ensure period products are freely available in schools, acknowledge the work carried out by the Hygiene Bank, Ballymena and Equality Period in Larne  and ask the council’s Community Planning team to assist them in securing any grants which come available in the future”.

This amendment was carried by 20 votes in favour and nine against.

by Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter