Speeches

Speech by Mr. Ivor Callely, T.D at the launch of “Protecting Our Future”, the Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse

Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, may I straight away thank Professor O´Neill for his very impressive overview of the Report we are launching here to-day and I would like to continue in the same vein by thanking all who played a role in the events which culminated today in the publication of this ground-breaking Report.

I start with Anne O´Loughlin and Joe Duggan who, in 1998, carried out the exploratory study on abuse, neglect and mistreatment of older people, which was commissioned by the National Council on Ageing and Older People. I would mention, next, my predecessor Dr. Tom Moffatt who established the Working Group and provided the operational funding. I thank most of all Professor O´Neill and his multi-talented Working Group who gave unstintingly of their time and expertise. I would like to express my gratitude to the National Council on Ageing and Older People for taking responsibility for the administration arrangements and I pay tribute to Deirdre Fitzpatrick, the Research Officer, who brought the whole project together. Thanks are due also to the health board personnel in Kerry and Limerick who organised, and took part in, the pilot projects, as well as their trainers and the evaluator, Patricia Conboy.

Finally, I wish to thank all who went to the trouble of making submissions either written or verbal, to the Working Group. If I have left anyone out please forgive me.

The Report

Now back to the business in hand. This is a momentous day for the older people of this country. They are being given a blueprint to deal with the scourge of elder abuse and a pledge that this blueprint will be implemented. Up to recent times, there was a feeling that elder abuse didn´t exist in this country but I can assure you that, as a politician who keeps in very close contact with his constituents, I was aware that there is a problem out there, the extent and nature of which remains to be identified.

This report, in starting with a definition of elder abuse and recommending the putting in place of structures to deal with suspected cases will, hopefully, give older people who feel they are the subject of abuse in any shape or form, the confidence to report their anxieties, as appropriate, to such as a social worker, a public health nurse, a member of the Garda Siochana or, indeed, any professional or care worker.

Mention of the Garda Siochana reminds me that I should acknowledge their participation in the deliberations of the Working Group and their commitment to play a significant role in the plan being unveiled here to-day.

Types of Elder Abuse / Awareness / Prevention

This report is a first attempt to deal with elder abuse, but an important one. Abuse can come in many shapes and forms, be it physical, psychological, financial or through neglect. I accept the need to make the general public more aware of the problem of elder abuse, however, even more important is the need to target relevant service providers so that they become aware of the steps being taken to respond to elder abuse, and the procedures that will be available. This is something that Health Board management, many of whom are present here today, might dwell on.

Prevention:

As the old saying goes, “prevention is the best policy”, and I am hoping that greater awareness of the problem will lead to a lessening of the incidence of elder abuse. I note the recommendation to establish a National Centre for research and training and, obviously, such a centre will play a role in prevention. I will have to give careful consideration to where such a centre might be based. I also note the recommendation that a National Implementation Group be established. And, in my view, it should be aligned with the National Council on Ageing and Older People. I would be hopeful that some of the people who were members of the Working Group might volunteer their services for this Implementation Group.

The Pilot Projects:

The outcomes of the Pilot Projects are not contained in the body of the main report. A separate evaluation report is being published, but I understand that, without any major publicity, sufficient cases, both in terms of numbers and in seriousness, have come to light to justify this whole process. Financial abuse seems to loom large and this trend is corroborated by statistics produced by the National Help Line for Senior Citizens, which receives a lot of calls from older people in distress.

I will be immediately seeking to have this Report formally accepted by the Government and I am determined to press ahead with its gradual implementation, starting in 2003. Despite the difficult financial situation facing us, I am confident that funding will be available, in 2003, to commence this process.

I concur with the broad thrust of the Report which recommends that the response to elder abuse be placed in the wider context of health and social care services for older people.

Commitment to Older People:

As the population of older people here in Ireland rises, we should never forget that they have been instrumental in building the Irish State to the healthy level we enjoy today. Their contribution to the economy is widely acknowledged and the present government are fully committed to improving all aspects of their lives by focusing on issues that affect their well-being.

From a health perspective, the cornerstone of policy is to keep older people living in their own homes as long as possible and this has been shown by research to be the choice of older people themselves. Very significant additional funding has been made available in recent years to increase the level of services in community care through the employment of extra nurses, home-helps, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, etc., and by the provision of more Day Hospitals and Day Care Centres. Moreover, the level of long-stay care has been increased by the construction of publicly-funded community nursing units and the introduction of a statutory subvention scheme to pay for care in private nursing homes.

A writer by the name of Anthony Powell once said “Growing old is like being increasingly penalised for a crime you haven´t committed”. This should not be so.

Older People have a fundamental right to be treated with respect in their twilight years and the implementation of the recommendations contained in this Report will help to bring this about. Older People are often reluctant to report abuse and I would urge the various voluntary organisations that represent older people to encourage them to be brave enough to come forward.

Conclusion:

Today is the dawn of a new era for vulnerable older people in this country. Thanks to Professor O´Neill and his team, we have a template for dealing with elder abuse. The Health Boards will do their bit about publicising the new arrangements, and the media, well-represented here today, can also play their part in lessening the amount of abuse inflicted on older people, by highlighting a positive attitude in respect of our deliberations here this morning.

The starting point for making the changes called-for in the report may well be for each one of us to reflect on our individual attitude to older people. I am in no doubt that, if we are to make an impact on this problem, it must involve a major culture change on all our parts. We must begin to question our attitude to older people in order to satisfy ourselves that we don´t harbour inbuilt negative feelings towards them. This, I believe can often be the source of unintentional abuse of older people. We now have to proceed on a journey during which we will have to absorb much and learn to cope with what may be some considerable fallout.

I believe the presentation of this Report marks the beginning of that journey.

Thank you for your attendance.