Speech by Minister Áine Brady TD to open Bealtaine 2010 Network Day

Good morning everyone. It is a great pleasure to be here with you all in the beautiful and historic surroundings of Dublin Castle. My thanks to John Hynes and Catherine Rose, and all at Age and Opportunity, for the kind invitation to open today’s proceedings.

Bealtaine Festival

We all know the Bealtaine Festival is about the celebration of creativity in older age, so the purpose of today’s event is to give you, the organizers, a chance to review and plan for Bealtaine 2010. It offers the opportunity to network and hear about each other’s projects, and to learn from each other.

The Bealtaine Festival can rightly be described as an Irish success story. It has grown since its inception, 14 years ago, into the largest co-operative arts festival in Ireland to celebrate older age. It highlights a time in our lives for creativity and personal growth.

The Festival’s success is built on three pillars – collaboration, participation and creativity – and is an excellent example of co-operation between older people and the arts. The impressive work undertaken together at local and national level, includes arts professionals, care centres, hospitals, and a range of other cultural or community groups around the country.

Studies have shown that creativity can undoubtedly contribute to the quality of life of many people. It augments physical health as we age, it enriches relationships, and provides a legacy to successive generations. The evaluation of the Bealtaine Festival by Áine Ní Léime and Eamon O’Shea, of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, NUI Galway, has shown that it contributes considerably to the health and social gain of older people. In addition, they endorse the festival’s positive impact on individual well-being as well as community cohesion.

Government Policy

As we get older, the first choice of many is to remain living at home, and in the communities, we are part of. Currently nearly half a million people in Ireland are aged 65 and over. This number is rising, and the Government is keenly aware of both the challenges and opportunities an ageing population brings. These will demand responses from all sectors of society.

Over recent years, we have taken significant steps in relation to older people’s issues generally, and have backed this up in practical terms through considerable funding and other resource supports. These include, for example, the introduction of the registration and inspection regime of residential care for older people in July of this year; the introduction of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme (A Fair Deal) last month; and significant development of a range of community based care services over the last three years.

In 2009, for example, the HSE will provide in the region of:

  • 12 million Home Help Hours benefiting over 54,000 people;
  • Home Care Packages to around 8,700 people at any one time; and
  • 22,000 Day or Respite care places.

There is no doubt these measures make a tangible difference to the daily lives of older people, and support the wider health system by tailored and targeted service provision.

National Positive Ageing Strategy

As Minister, I have a specific responsibility for the Office for Older People. The establishment of the Office last year reinforced most clearly the commitment of the Government to enhance the lives of older people. One of my priorities is to develop a National Positive Ageing Strategy. This will take forward the commitment in the Programme for Government “to better recognise the position of older people in Irish society”.

Positive ageing is an approach that aims to maintain and improve the physical, emotional and mental well-being of older people. Given that the well-being of older people is affected by many different factors, the new Strategy will extend well beyond the health and community sectors. These factors include income, social care, housing, transport, education and employment.

The Strategy must be prepared having regard to the constraints posed by the present fiscal situation. It will set the strategic direction for future policies, programmes, and services for older people in Ireland. The intention is that policies are developed and implemented across all sectors, which will contribute to the best possible quality of life for older people in Ireland.

In June last, I issued an invitation for submissions on the Strategy, and am delighted by the response. We have received in excess of 180 submissions, and I would particularly like on this occasion to thank Age and Opportunity for their high quality submission.


Once again, I wish to thank sincerely all those who have worked so hard and tirelessly to make the Bealtaine Festival so successful and life affirming. The level of collaboration and co-operation between such a wide and varied range of bodies and organizations – as witnessed here today – is the foundation of its success and future growth. I’m sure today’s networking will ensure the continued success of next year’s festival.