Speech for Minister Hoctor, at Address to ‘Age Demands Action’ Seminar, Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, 1st October 2008.“The Government’s Plans for Positive Ageing in Ireland”
I am delighted to be here with you this morning as we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. I would like to thank both Age Action and HelpAge International for their kind invitation and for organising this important event.
There are at present approximately half a million people aged 65 or over in Ireland, and the number is rising. We need to celebrate the fact that we are living longer, healthier lives and it is important that these lives should have purpose and meaning. The Government is fully committed to cherishing and supporting its older population who have made such an enormous and meaningful contribution to many walks of life in literature, politics, voluntary and community work, and family life.
The development of Services for older people continues to be a priority on the overall Government agenda. The cornerstone of our policy is supporting older people to live in their own community for as long as possible.
In my role as Minister for Older People, I have responsibility for the recently established Office for Older People. This new Office reinforces most clearly the commitment of the Government to enhancing many aspects of the lives of our senior citizens, particularly through promoting improved co-operation at all levels of both the statutory and voluntary sectors.
The Government’s objective of continued development of community-based services for older persons is reflected in the unprecedented levels of funding given to the sector in recent times. Over the last two years, for example, we have funded the largest ever expansion in services for older people with just over €400 million being provided to ensure improvements in home-based care; that high standards are promoted in all residential care settings; and that the cost of residential care is always affordable and never an anxiety. Particular emphasis has been given to developing Home Care Packages, the Home-Help services, meals-on-wheels and day / respite care across the country.
North/South co-operation is extremely important in the context of the Governments’ national and international policies to enhance the lives of older people. This takes place at three levels:
1. Joint Departmental Projects
2. North South Ministerial Council (NSMC)
3. Cooperation And Working Together (CAWT)
Joint Departmental Projects
Since the restoration of the Executive in Northern Ireland in May 2007, both my own Department and the Northern Ireland Department of Health agreed to undertake a Feasibility Study on the potential for future cooperation. This is at present underway in relation to an extensive range of health and social care services and a final report will be presented later this year.
In addition, two ‘flagship’ projects have been identified and agreed for action in parallel to the feasibility study. These are 1). Closer co-operation on Paediatric and Congenital Cardiac Services between the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast and Our Lady’s Hospital, Crumlin and 2). The potential for cross-border use of the new Radiotherapy Unit at Altnagelvin.
Both Departments North and South and the Health Service Executive (HSE) continue to work closely on pandemic influenza planning and regular contact is maintained
North South Ministerial Council (NSMC)
In relation to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), five main areas have been agreed for cooperation. These are:
•Accident and Emergency Services
Various initiatives underway or planned under these categories are designed to promote research and good health, realise best access to services for clients and to maximise use of resources generally.
Co-operation And Working Together (CAWT)
Outside of the formal structure of the North South Ministerial Council the main vehicle for North South co-operation is CAWT with a specific focus on both Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland.
The work of CAWT in the health sector from its commencement was mainly in facilitating cross border projects. However, since its success in securing funding from the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund, its profile has been greatly enhanced.
Whilst the projects outlined are not directly related to older people, this process of collaboration which is at an early stage holds the potential for mutual benefits for people in both the North and South of Ireland into the future.
Ireland’s Contribution to Promoting Positive Ageing Internationally.
Ireland has a long tradition of helping those less fortunate both at home and at the international level. Through Irish Aid, the official programme of overseas development assistance, Irish people are making a substantial and positive impact on people’s lives in the developing South.
Indeed, Irish Aid has been supporting the work of HelpAge International in developing countries since 2006, specifically in Ghana, Colombia, Peru, Bangadesh, Bolivia and Jamaica. This work is wide ranging and promotes the rights of older people, property rights, health care, advocacy and capacity building.
The Welfare of Irish People Abroad.
The Irish Government has also given high priority to the welfare of Irish people living abroad and this is demonstrated by the level of funding now available for Emigrant Services. This year, a record €15 million is being disbursed to assist our communities abroad. This represents a five-fold increase since 2003.
The primary emphasis of the Programme’s funding is on supporting frontline welfare services. The organisations funded provide a range of services for the elderly, ranging from informal community networking groups for senior citizens to outreach services and advice in accessing entitlements.
Elderly Irish in Britain – the Dion Committee.
The needs of the Irish community in Britain, in particular older people and those at risk of social exclusion, are also a key focus. The Irish Government’s Emigrant Advisory Committee (Díon) advises the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the welfare needs of Irish people in Britain. Dion is the Irish word for shelter and that has been the Committee’s remit since its establishment in 1984 — to provide shelter and support to the disadvantaged Irish living in Britain.
More than €50 million has been allocated to Irish community organisations in Britain since 1984. In 2007, grants were approved to 134 frontline welfare and community organisations in Britain amounting to just over €11 million. Similarly significant funding is being awarded in 2008, with grants to frontline welfare and community organisations awarded this year already exceeding €8.5 million, and capital grant applications currently under consideration.
This support is having a very tangible and positive impact on the most needy of the Irish communities in Britain. The Simon community in London estimates that the number of homeless Irish in central London fell from over 600 in 1999 to under 100 in 2006. They acknowledge that Irish Government funding played a key role in this.
Additional funding has also made possible increased funding to voluntary agencies in Ireland that are engaged in the provision of pre-departure services, as well as advice and assistance to elderly emigrants wishing to return to Ireland, including the Safe Home Programme.
Elderly Irish in US
The Government also provides considerable funding to frontline Irish immigration organisations in the United States which offer a wide range of services of concrete benefit to the community, including the elderly. In 2007, Emigrant Support Funding totalling US$1.5 million was awarded to frontline Irish immigration organisations in the United States.
The significant and consistent increases in funding awarded to support the frontline Irish immigration organisations in recent years has enabled them to develop and improve the range of services they provide, and to introduce new programmes targeted at the most vulnerable members of the Irish community.
Other Government Support to Elderly Emigrants Overseas
The introduction in 2000 of the half rate contributory pension for people with pre-1953 contributions benefits a significant number of elderly Irish people who live abroad. Under this scheme over €67 million was paid out in 2007 to more than 14,000 pensioners in Britain.
In a further initiative, the Government has extended the eligibility for the Centenarian Bounty to include all Irish citizens born on the island of Ireland and living outside the State. Since May 2006, over 400 centenarians living outside the State have received the award of €2,540, many of them resident in Britain.
An additional example of the Government’s commitment to support our older community was the decision in 2005 to waive passport fees for persons aged 65 and over.
I would like to reassure you of this Government’s commitment to our older people who have contributed so much to this society. I look forward to continuing to work on your behalf in the future to ensure that Ireland remains an equitable and fulfilling country to live in as we age with dignity and purpose. Thank you.