Speech by Aine Brady TD, Minister for Older People and Health Promotion at the Launch of ‘Say No to Ageism’ Week 2010

A dhaoine uaisle

I am delighted to be with you today to launch ‘Say No to Ageism’ Week 2010.

I should like to say at the outset that today’s event represents something of a milestone for me as Minister for Older People and Health Promotion. That is because one of my very first duties following my appointment as Minister just over a year ago was to launch last year’s ‘Say No to Ageism’ Week.

On that occasion, I remember emphasising the importance of the ‘Say No to Ageism’ Campaign as a means of tackling ageism in Irish society. Today, a full twelve months later, I am convinced more than ever before of the need to highlight the ways in which negative attitudes and practices towards ageing and older people can reduce people’s sense of self-worth, how older people can be limited in their capacity to participate as full and equal members of society and how age- related prejudice can be responsible for restricting the types and quality of services available to older people.

The reason that I have become so reinforced in my belief that ageism poses a serious threat to the well-being of older people in our society is relatively simple. It is because older people and older people’s organisations throughout the country have been telling me themselves how ageism affects them in their daily lives. Let me explain

The Government has made a commitment to developing the National Positive Ageing Strategy. This will be a detailed plan designed to set the direction for all future policies, programmes and services relating to older people.

The reason that the Government has made a commitment to developing such a strategy is very simple – it is because we need an overarching blueprint in order to ensure that Ireland is a good country in which to grow older in the years ahead.

The Government’s view is that we must plan ahead now to make Ireland an ‘age-friendly’ society. That will be a society in which every individual is entitled to the same rights and privileges, regardless of their age; a society in which older people are assured the kinds of services and supports that enable them to live healthy, fulfilling and independent lives in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.

That is a reflection of the wishes of the vast majority of older people in Ireland; it has long been key Government policy for older people and it will continue to be so.

Part of my brief as Minister for Older People and Health Promotion, is to develop the National Positive Ageing Strategy. This process began last year when I initiated a lengthy consultation exercise and over the past twelve months or so it has included discussions with Government Departments, older people’s groupings and organisations and a call for submissions to the new strategy that resulted in 186 contributions from a broad range of statutory agencies, NGOs, voluntary and community organisations, commercial bodies, cultural and academic institutions, as well as from individual older people.

And in early March I initiated the final phase of the consultation process. This has involved a very successful series of regional consultation meetings with older people – in Cork, Sligo, Galway, my own county of Kildare, Wexford, Limerick and Dublin.

Indeed, the most recent of these meetings was just last Monday in Clontarf, an event which drew over 200 service users and service providers from the Dublin region who provided us with an immense amount of valuable information on a range of issues to be considered in the context of the new Positive Ageing Strategy.

I would like to mention that the Equality Authority has been most helpful to my Office in relation to our consultation meetings – Renee Dempsey, CEO and Brian Merriman, Head of Communications have addressed several of our meetings on the topic of ageism and I am very grateful to them for their assistance in that regard.

I mention the consultation exercise which we have been carrying out in relation to the new National Positive Ageing Strategy in order to emphasise that the issue of ageism has been looming large in both the written submissions we have received and in the face-to-face consultations we have been having with older people’s groupings and organisations and service providers.

The reality of ageism in the day-to-day lives of older people has been emerging as an issue of real concern for many older people.

For example, we are hearing that people are encountering ageist attitudes on a daily basis as they are accessing services of all kinds; in that regard they are citing the negative attitudes of service providers towards older people, attitudes that give the impression that older people are in some way less valued as service users or as customers of products and services.

We are hearing of the manner in which the needs of older service-users are ignored when it comes to accessing information. Specifically, people are justifiably angry at the growing proliferation of telephone answering systems that take them through a seemingly endless series of steps before they get to speak to a living human being – if, indeed, they are lucky enough or persistent enough ever to get to one!

We are hearing of how service providers are increasingly making assumptions that older consumers have internet access. Whether it is a case of accessing services or availing of particular products, the reality is that many older consumers feel excluded and marginalised as a result of the ever-growing usage of information and communications technology (ICT) by agencies, organisations and bodies of all kinds in their daily interaction with their customers.

While of course there are older people who are computer literate and growing numbers who are taking courses to ensure that they keep up with developments in that regard, there are also many more whose lack of access to modern communications technology is totally disregarded by providers of goods and services for older people.

In an era of cost cutting, there is every temptation to replace a living person at the end of a telephone with a computer. But I would like to ask service providers – when those decisions are being taken, does anyone take into account the effect of such a decision on the quality of life of an older service user or customer? It is my belief that the particular needs of older people are ignored to a degree that those of younger age groups would never be.

Other examples of prejudice towards older people that have been mentioned at our consultations include those that relate to the built environment: these include housing designs that take little or no account of the needs of people as they grow older; footpath and road planning that ignores older people’s requirements; intentionally-shortened sequences at pedestrian crossing points that make it difficult and even dangerous for older pedestrians; the absence of seating and toilet facilities in public places that lead to older people feeling marginalised and unwelcome in ways that do not apply to younger age groups.

With regard to transport issues, we are hearing of the how lack of concern on the part of some bus drivers can place older passengers at risk of injury.

And of course, we are hearing the complaints of older people who feel marginalised by ageist attitudes expressed in the media and elsewhere, attitudes that give the impression that older people are in some way of lesser value or importance as younger members of Irish society.

Let me say here and now that I believe that ageist attitudes and the manifestation of such attitudes in the dealings of public, private, voluntary or any other kind of agency are totally unacceptable to me as Minister for Older People.

The central thrust of current public policy is the creation of ‘a society for all ages’ in Ireland, a society in which no individual is marginalised or excluded from any aspect of daily life by virtue of his or her age, by virtue of gender, marital status, family status, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief or membership of the Travelling Community.

By its very nature, a ‘society for all ages’ will also be an ‘age-friendly’ society but if we are to progress towards the goal of an age-friendly society in this country we must do everything in our power to tackle ageism head-on in the places where it needs to be tackled.

For several years now, the ‘Say No to Ageism’ Campaign has been identifying ageism as a major barrier for older people accessing goods and services. Clearly, what I have been hearing in the course of consultations on the National Positive Ageing Strategy is a very definite confirmation of what the organisers of the Campaign have been telling us: ageism is at the root of many of the barriers which older people experience in accessing goods and services.

That is because ageist attitudes towards older people lead to ageist assumptions about them and ageist assumptions lead to ageist practices.

Accordingly, it will be of crucial importance to bring about attitudinal change within agencies, organisations and institutions of all kinds if the barriers created by ageist attitudes and practices are to be eliminated.

In my view, that will mean doing whatever is possible under the current circumstances to convince personnel at all levels to be sensitive to the existence of ageist attitudes and practices.

That will require the development of creative initiatives designed to counter ageism by agencies, organisations and institutions. Tackling ageism will mean confronting many widely-held and deeply attitudes towards ageing and older people. It will mean confronting attitudes based on fears, myths and inaccurate assumptions about the ageing process.

It will mean tackling head-on the kinds of attitudes that foster the belief that people are less useful, less interesting, less interesting and of lesser value as they grow older.

Above all else, it will mean confronting the most insidious aspect of ageism – the view that it is somehow acceptable to express prejudicial attitudes towards people based on their chronological age.

The process of confronting ageism in Irish society is well underway – but the task of eliminating it completely will not be an easy one. It will take time, it will take effort, it will take effective planning and above all else, it will take persistence.

In conclusion, then, I would like to say how delighted I am that ‘Say No to Ageism’ is continuing, albeit on a more reduced level than previous years but in that regard, we have to accept present realities.

Nevertheless, the Week is now in its seventh year and is well-established in the annual calendar of awareness-raising events. It is well recognised as a very important initiative in tackling ageism in Ireland and I would like to compliment all those involved in the campaign for their continued efforts in implementing and supporting the campaign – the Equality Authority, the HSE, the Transport providers – Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, Veolia (LUAS) and the Rural Transport Initiative as well as the older people’s organisations, Age & Opportunity, the Older and Bolder Campaign, Age Action, Active Retirement Ireland and the Older Women’s Network.

I feel that the theme you have chosen this year – Care About Ageism – is very aptly summed up in the acronym you are using:
CARE – Consider, Acknowledge, and Respect older people, ensuring Equality.

I hope we can build on those sentiments in future campaigns.

Finally, I am delighted to be with you here today to launch Say No to Ageism Week 2010. My thanks and to all the participating agencies for your efforts in ensuring that the Week continues to be an important contribution to the work of securing equality and fairness for older people in Ireland, both now and in the future……

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir…….