The vast majority of those aged over 65 want to see an Independent Commissioner for Ageing and Older People set up in Ireland, according to a new survey conducted by a leading national network for older people.
Active Retirement Ireland (ARI) said on Monday that some older people feel they are being “sidelined and overlooked” by policymakers, and that their needs are not being properly met by the government, following the publication of a survey on the issue.
ARI, which is Ireland’s largest membership organisation for older people, comprising over 500 active retirement associations, found that 94 per cent of those surveyed – nearly all – said they would like to see the establishment of an independent Commissioner for Ageing and Older People. The role presently exists in Northern Ireland and Wales, with calls for a commissioner also made in Scotland.
Further, 96% of respondents to the organisation’s survey – conducted in March and April of this year – agreed there is a need for a comprehensive positive ageing framework in Ireland that looks beyond the care and medical needs of older people to “protect all aspects of ageing.”
The voluntary organisation said on Monday that the findings show that older people are not satisfied that their needs are being properly considered and planned for by the government.
ARI shared some responses to the survey, some of which detailed people feeling “marginalised” in Ireland and lacking opportunities for activity and engagement.
A respondent from Dublin city said:
“More talk is needed about ageing and for people to realise that getting older does not mean an end of life to be spent knitting and sitting in a home looking at four walls.”
Another respondent in County Clare said:
“Older people in Ireland are marginalised and discriminated against. This does not happen in other countries and should not be happening here. We still have a lot to give and a lifetime of experience to share.”
Another response said that attitudes needed to change, adding:
“The contribution of older people to families, workplaces, communities and society in general is undervalued. Attitudes need to change.
“While one lauds the work done by the current Minister [for Older People], she places far too much emphasis on care, medical needs and nursing homes. Older people are active, engaged and intelligent.”
‘SIDELINED AND OVERLOOKED’
The organisation’s CEO, Maureen Kavanagh, said a feeling exists among members that they are being sidelined.
“What our members are telling us is that they feel sidelined and overlooked by policymakers and it is not hard to see why,” Ms Kavanagh said as the survey was released this week.
“We have a National Positive Ageing Strategy published by the government 10 years ago in 2013 that has not been implemented and indications that this will instead be replaced by a Commission on Care, which, despite being committed to in the Programme for Government, has also not seen any movement,” she added.
“We have a Minister of State for Older People who sits under the Department of Health and also has responsibility for the mental health portfolio. Health is as important in later life as at any stage of life — but what about housing, transport, environment, enterprise, infrastructure, communications and every other aspect of society?
“While we are in the midst of a care crisis in Ireland and there is no doubt a Commission on Care is needed, ageing is not synonymous with care and positive ageing is about much more than a person’s physical health later in life.”
She said that older people need to “have a seat at the table across government” – adding that calls for an Independent Commissioner have been long running. The role is needed in order to “bring awareness” to the issues impacting older people and to ensure their interests and rights are properly considered during public policy development, according to Active Retirement Ireland.
“Alongside this, the Government must develop and put into action a whole-of-government strategy on population ageing that allows all Irish people to age with dignity and respect, and to live independently for as long as possible,” Ms Kavanagh said.
She also described population ageing as a “worldwide concern” – adding that Ireland is “not yet at a crisis level by any means” but that steps needed to be taken.
“We have time to approach population ageing from a positive ageing perspective rather than a crisis management one. Let’s start now and put in place robust and connected strategies and implementation frameworks to become a country that is good to grow old in.”
Ireland’s growing ageing population has been described as a ticking time-bomb, with experts warning we are far away from being equipped to meet needs and challenges presented by the findings of the recently published census. In April, figures by the Central Statistics Office revealed that Ireland’s older population grew by 10 per cent in the last decade alone, now sitting above five million.
Between 2012 and 2022, Ireland saw the third highest percentage growth – of 10.3 per cent – in population of anywhere throughout the EU, after Malta and Luxembourg. The report, Measuring Ireland’s Progress (2021) laid bare how Ireland is ageing at a rapid pace, with the amount of people aged under 45 decreasing from 65 per cent to 59.8 per cent over ten years. Meanwhile, those aged over 45 increased from 34.9 per cent to 40.2 per cent.
It also found that, in 2020, Ireland had the highest male life expectancy in the European Union of 80.8 years, while female life expectancy at the same stage – 84.4 years – was 1.2 years over the EU average.
Professor Rose Anne Kenny, of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, has been among those to warn of Ireland’s lack of preparedness for “impending demographic change” and in recent months called for the setting up of an Oireachtas special committee to look at how essential services will be provided in the years ahead.