Speech by Áine Brady TD, Minister for Older People and Health Promotion at ALONE – Forum on Ageing

A dhaoine uaisle, I would like to thank Sean Moynihan, CEO, and the Board and staff of ALONE for their kind invitation to be here with you to-day to mark the 20th Anniversary of the death of the organisation’s founding member, Mr Willie Birmingham.

Willie Birmingham was a man of vision and a man of action and given that we are at a very important juncture in the lives of older people in Ireland, this gathering of a Forum of experts and professionals to address pertinent issues in relation to ageing is wholly faithful to his legacy and a very timely exercise. The Government is keenly aware that the expected rise in numbers of older people in our population will bring significant challenges in the years ahead. But that said, we are also of the view that these challenges can be successfully met by planning now for a society in which there will be far greater numbers of older people than ever before. The Government has to plan for this change, just as it has to plan for any change.

I have been asked on a number of occasions why the Government is currently preparing a National Positive Ageing Strategy?

The simple answer to that question is that the time is right to develop a detailed plan that will set the direction for all policies, programmes and services relating to older people so that we can ensure that Ireland is a good country in which to grow older. We need a plan which will outline how we intend to support older people in their efforts to live healthy, fulfilling, independent lives in their own homes and their own communities for as long as possible.

The Strategy that I am developing will deal with all issues that impact on the lives of older people and will have a much broader focus than past policy documents for older people which tended to have a rather narrow emphasis on issues relating to health and personal social services. The Strategy will reflect the fact that all services and all sectors are important for older people, not just health and personal social services.

Far from seeing the later years as the end of a process, the concept of ‘positive ageing’ points to the later years as a time of new beginnings and of new possibilities. It emphasises activity, participation, mobility, choice and well-being in later life. It highlights that later life can be a time for active citizenship, for participation in local community affairs, for engaging in the kinds activities that enhance physical and mental health, that it can be a time of fulfilment through helping others on their life-journeys, whether those people are family members, friends, neighbours or members of the wider community.

Our view is that every effort must be made to enable people to live healthy, active, fulfilling lives in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. This is a reflection of the wishes of the vast majority of older people in Ireland and it has long been Government policy for older people and it will continue to be.

We are committed to encouraging people to think positively about the ageing process, enabling them to plan sensibly for their later years and promoting the kind of lifestyle practices that will have the effect of “adding years to life and life to years”.

I am very much aware of the need to ensure that every voice is heard, that every issue is raised and that all viewpoints are given ample consideration to ensure that we develop the best possible Strategy for older people in Ireland in the years ahead.

You may already know of the consultation process which is currently ongoing. My call for written submissions to inform the Strategy resulted in 186 contributions from a very broad range of organisations, agencies, cultural, academic/research institutions, professional bodies, political parties and private/commercial concerns, as well as from individuals. We are also now engaged in a series of public consultation meetings in different regions of the country to meet people at first hand. So far, we have been to Cork, Sligo, Galway, Kildare, Wexford and Limerick. We will be in Dublin on 17 May, and Louth and a Midlands venue before we conclude our consultations at the end of May.

The public consultation process which we are currently engaged in is fundamental to the development of the Strategy and this is the first time that there will have been such a wide-ranging consultation between Government and older people in Ireland. In due course I intend publishing a report on the consultation process which I am currently engaged in to highlight the issues which older people and service providers have brought to my attention.

Everybody is giving us much to think about in terms of how services address needs. In trying to hear every view that may be out there, I am very conscious of the need to hear the views of ‘hard to reach’ older people, people who will not or can not attend my public meetings, people like those that inspired Willie Birmingham and continue to inspire ALONE to action. I am most anxious to consult as widely as possible and to ensure that all interested parties can express their views, a variety of approaches are being developed so that all who wish to engage with the consultation process have the opportunity to do so.

Of course, we cannot avoid present realities: given the constraints on the public finances, we cannot propose immediate new services. However, I am convinced that services can be organised and delivered in much better ways than they are at present, ways that make them much more accessible to everybody. We can make them work better now and set the direction for future services that will be of benefit to people as they grow older.

In conclusion, I am delighted to be with you here today – events such as this are an integral element in the formulation of public policy and I am confident that your deliberations will prove to be immensely helpful. Most importantly, this event will ensure that the work that Willie Birmingham began in 1977 can continue to inform our understanding of the needs of our more vulnerable members of society into the future.

Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir.