Speech for Minister Brady County Wicklow Network for Older People Seminar “A Voice for Older People in Wicklow”

1. Introduction

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be given the opportunity to address your seminar “A Voice for Older People in Wicklow”. I would like, in particular, to thank Anne Kavanagh for her kind invitation to attend. I always welcome an opportunity to meet with older people in local communities, and with those providing services on their behalf.

2. Demographics

The changing demographics of Irish society have been visible in many ways in recent years. Our population has been growing more rapidly than at any time since the foundation of the State. Estimates for 2009 show an unprecedented rise of nearly 18% over the previous decade. The population of those aged over-65 is estimated to almost triple over the next 30 years.

The increasing number of older people, as a proportion of the population, represents both challenges and opportunities for all of us. This process will undoubtedly have wide ranging implications for all strands of society, including providing quality health and long-term care. This demographic trend highlights the need to plan appropriately for the future delivery of services to older people, thus supporting in a practical way the roles they have played, and continue to play, as part of our nation.

As Minister for Older People, I am committed to working in partnership with statutory and voluntary agencies to improve the quality of care for older people. My aim is to ensure that the vision of a unified approach to the challenges and opportunities presented by our ageing population are realised, and that older people receive the maximum support and encouragement to enhance their lives.

3. Government Policy

Government policy is to help and support older people to remain at home and in their communities for as long as possible. Recent years have seen dramatic changes in both the concept and practice of services for older people. This includes, for example the introduction of initiatives on the long-term residential care side such as the Nursing Homes Support Scheme – or “Fair Deal” – and new standards in relation to such centres. Enormous strides have also been made in developing comprehensive, community-based services to facilitate the objective of best meeting the needs of older people.

There have been unprecedented levels of investment in this particular area with, for example, just over €200 million additional funding provided for new service developments since 2006. This includes, notwithstanding the budgetary and economic pressures facing the Government over the last while, an extra €10m revenue funding provided this year to expand the Home Care Package Initiative nationally. This year, the HSE will provide Home-Help to around 55,000 older people, Home Care Packages to around 10,000 people and over 21,000 Day/Respite care places to support up to 80,000 older people nationally.

I would like to take this opportunity also to acknowledge and recognize the key role of the Community & Voluntary sector across the country in supporting older people. It is more important than ever, given the challenges we face, that the State continues to work closely in partnership with this sector, and indeed with private providers, to deliver modern quality services to our older population.

4. National Positive Ageing Strategy

As Minister for Older People and Health Promotion, I am keenly aware of the importance of ‘positive ageing’, not only for each and every one of us as individuals, but also for our communities and for Irish society as whole. In 2008, and in acknowledgement of the need ‘to better recognise the position of older people in Irish society’, the Government committed to establishing an Office for Older People and to developing a National Positive Ageing Strategy. This strategy will set the strategic direction for all future policies, programmes and services for older people in Ireland, and is being developed for the purpose of making Ireland a good country in which to grow old.

My Office has been actively involved in the development of the Positive Ageing Strategy for over a year now. In mid-2009, I made a call for written submissions and was delighted to receive 190 contributions from a very broad range of agencies, organisations and individuals. At this point I would like to thank the Co Wickow Network for Older People for their submission. Their views, along with those expressed in other submissions received will greatly assist us in the development of the Strategy.

In May 2010, I also completed a three month countrywide series of consultation meetings to hear at first hand the views of older people, service providers and representative organisations on issues that affect them, and the information gathered at these meetings will also be used to inform the Strategy. We will shortly be publishing a report which summarises the issues which have been raised in both the written submissions and in the consultation meetings.

It is recognised that all services and all sectors are relevant to older people and the Strategy that is being developed will therefore reflect a broad focus in setting the direction for all future policies, programmes and services relating to older people. Work is ongoing to prepare the Strategy and it is intended that it will set out a common framework for the development of operational plans by Government Departments. They will clearly set out their objectives relating to older people, as well as the development of ongoing mechanisms designed to monitor progress and identify challenges facing older people in the future.

5. County Wicklow Network for Older People

One of the main priorities of the County Wicklow Network for Older People is working to alleviate loneliness and isolation among older people here in Wicklow. The Network offers practical and emotional support through regular meetings and social activities.

It is particularly encouraging to hear that you work closely with the HSE, and other organisations, to advance the agenda for older people. The model of partnership you promote obviously makes a real difference to those that use your services, and maintains the all important human contact to help them manage their daily lives.

6. Seminar

Your Seminar today provides a forum that will enable useful debate and hopefully lead to practical improvements on a wide range of topics. I would particularly encourage every participant to make a contribution and engage as fully as possible. Speakers from various organisations will outline the best options for working together to take effective action on issues affecting older people and to promote a positive attitude generally to ageing.

7. Conclusion

In conclusion, I commend the Network for the many benefits it has brought to Wicklow to-date. I have no doubt that it will continue to be a focal point for local communities, and to meet local needs in an effective and practical way.

I look forward to learning more about the particular views and issues affecting older people in this part of the country, and to wish you all every success in the future.