The official launch of the National Council of Ageing and Older People publications "An Age Friendly Society: A Position Document" and "Planning for an Ageing Population: Strategic Considerations"

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Speech by

Minister for Social Affairs, Séamus Brennan T.D.


The official launch of the

National Council of Ageing and Older People publications

" An Age Friendly Society: A Position Document"


" Planning for an Ageing Population: Strategic Considerations"


The Burlington Hotel, Dublin

Wednesday, 15th June 2005


  • When it comes to the ageing population, our challenge is to recognise that older people still have a valuable contribution to make, and that we need to provide the supports and services which will allow them to achieve this in whatever way they wish.
  • I want to share with you today some of the area of reform and change that I am examining.

It gives me great pleasure to launch the two very important documents from the National Council of Ageing and Older People- " An Age Friendly Society: A Position Document" and " Planning for an Ageing Population: Strategic Considerations".

I want to take this opportunity to commend the National Council for all their fine work, and in particular for their high quality and well researched reports. Those reports have contributed to general debate and have helped to influence the policy making process over the years.

The Council's continuing commitment to the promotion of a positive and practical understanding of population ageing in Ireland is very obvious from the work it does.

The reports we are launching today will build on the impressive research base already established by the Council. These reports will prompt debate, assessment and much comment because the reality is that the issue of ageing affects all of us.

Of course people will always react in different ways to the prospects of moving towards and through retirement, and on into the so-called 'sunset years'.

Woody Allen, as you would expect, had his own view on aging: " I recently turned 60. Practically a third of my life is over".

I'm told that Fidel Castro enjoys relating that on his 80th birthday he was offered a rare turtle as a present. He declined, stating that turtles can live to 100 and you get very attached to them. "I'd be heartbroken when it dies", he said.

Maybe, when it comes to attitudes to ageing, the American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes captured it best when he wrote: " It is better to be 70 years young than 40 years old".

The concept of a society for all ages, where all generations mingle and are valued equally, is most appealing and must be the goal that we as a nation aspire to as we grapple with the challenges of planning for an ageing population.

I fully agree with the National Council that we need to identify the values and aspirations we wish to adopt in determining the place older people will have in our society.

But more than anything, as a nation, we need to realise that older people are a valuable asset and resource to this country and are not some irritating burden on the State.

We need to recognise their valued and valuable contribution, and equally to recognise the contribution they can continue to make to the enriching of our lives and our society in general.

Their contribution can not be measured solely in economic terms.

But, having said that, I have a message today for the generation of upwardly mobile people out there who are convinced that they are the ones responsible for the surging economy and the Celtic Tiger success story.

My message to them is "No, you're not".

They are standing on the shoulders of the people who through hard work, sacrifice and vision laid the foundations for the success that present generations are reaping the rewards of. Population ageing is an international phenomenon that varies from country to country. Ireland's older age dependency will rise over the next 20 years in line with other countries.

However, a projected older age dependency ratio of just under 10% by 2011 will be below current levels in all other developed countries. In other words, Ireland is fortunate in that it has time to plan to meet the needs of our ageing population. That planning is already underway and advancing.

The main strategy is grappling with policy issues in relation to the long term care of older citizens. It is seeking to establish who is primarily responsible for providing care for older persons-the State, older people themselves or their families. Central to that debate is where and how our elderly will be cared for-at home, in the community or in a nursing home environment. It is also analysising the types of publicly-funded support that should be available.

The Working Group on the Long-Term Care issue is now finalising its task of identifying the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer Report, and the review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme by Professor Eamon O'Shea, who you have heard from here today. The Group will report to the Tanaiste and me within weeks.

These are the broad fundamental issues that will evolve in time to deliver significant supports, services and funding. While we await progress on the long-term care requirements and provisions, the State continues to maintain high levels of supports for older people.

My Department will this year spend more than €12.2 billion on welfare entitlements and benefits. What that means in simple terms is that for every €3 in State spending in 2005, €1 will go towards welfare entitlements. Every week payments are made to over 970,000 people that, when dependants are taken into account, directly benefits 1.5 million of our population of 4 million.

When it comes to support for older people, the facts are that on pensions alone more than 24% of that €12 billion goes directly into providing pensions, benefits and entitlements. The Government is also firmly on target to meet the commitment to deliver by 2007 a basic State Pension of at least €200 and achieve a rate of at least €150 per week for the lowest rates of social welfare.

Carers have also seen increased recognition of their valued role in society through increased allowances, income ceilings and the increase of the Respite Care Grant to €1,000 and its extension to all full time carers.

The capital disregards for pensioners have been increased this month to €28,000 for single pensioners and twice that for a couple. These changes are making a significant difference and future Budgets will deliver much more.

So overall, when it comes to the ageing population, our challenge is to recognise that older people still have a valuable contribution to make, and that we need to provide the supports and services which will allow them to achieve this in whatever way they wish.

I am increasingly of the view that my Department has an important and influential contribution to make to the Ireland of the 21st century through identifying where social reform is needed and taking the necessary actions to bring about the change.

In this regard I am looking at fresh ideas and fresh thinking on how we recognise our elderly and deliver for them opportunities and rewards.

I want to share with you today some of the area of reform and change that I am examining. I would welcome your views and comments on these ideas going forward.

  • I consider free travel for older people of paramount importance as a way of recognising and rewarding them for a lifetime of service. I am now actively pursuing the introduction for all senior citizens of an all-island free travel scheme. This would allow citizens North and South free travel anywhere on the island. I am also holding discussions on the logistics of allowing Irish senior citizens in Britain to have access to free travel when they return on visits to Ireland.
  • I am examining the distinction that exists between contributory and non-contributory pensions as part of overall reform in the pensions area. A pensioner on a contributory pension is entitled to unlimited income without having the value of the pension affected. On the other hand, someone on a non-contributory pension who earns anything over about €7 a week has their pension reduced. I see no reason why those on non-contributory who are fit and willing and eager to work should not be allowed have that opportunity while retaining the full value of their pension.
  • I have spoken to the National Pensions Board and suggested that as part of the overall review they are currently conducting on my behalf they should examine the option of offering those reaching the retirement age of 66 the choice of remaining at work, if that is what they want. Those who would choose this option would have the opportunity to enhance their pensions while at the same time beginning to slowly ease themselves out of the workforce.
  • Increased access to technology, through personal computers, mobile phones, monitoring devices, etc, can play a vital part in allowing older people greater independence and the reassurance of instant communications.
  • I also want to examine possible mortgage options that would allow older people, particularly on low incomes and who own their own homes, to access a moderate annual stream of income. I have spoken to my Canadian counterpart about their ideas for a scheme that allows homeowners to top up incomes by mortgaging a part of their property. The amount is recouped by the State, or agency acting for the State, when the home is eventually sold. This so-called "reverse mortgage" would allow low-income seniors to raise their annual incomes consistently over time and offer them a greater sense of security. In Ireland, over 80% of older adults living alone own their own homes.
  • I am also determined to sweep away many of our welfare scheme names that I consider are outdated and do not reflect modern Irish society. For example, we still describe the pension to anyone over 66 as the "old age" pension. This is at a time when average life expectancy for a man is at least 75 years and over 80 years for a woman.

As I said, I would welcome your views and indeed, any proposals or suggestions you may have for practical, yet innovative ideas, that would contribute to a rewarding time for our ageing population.

I am of the view that while we wait for the broader strategy to deliver the big policy and structural changes, there are many new ideas and innovations that can be introduced that will enhance the lives of our older people.

Finally, I believe that the message going out from this launch today should be that the planning is underway to provide the services and supports for older people who need them now, and those will be expanded and enhanced to cater for the greater numbers requiring them in the future.

But it is also important to stress that we must, all of us, adjust our mindset and stop automatically associating older or elderly with dependence and frailty. Most of the time we should be thinking independence and vitality.

In Ireland we have a unique opportunity to show real and lasting recognition for our ageing population by addressing their needs and by making it clear in as many ways as possible that their valuable contribution to the growth of this nation will be recognised and acknowledged for their entire lives.

Today, as we stand in the doorway of the 21st century, it is a good time to consider for a moment how the generations that follow will look back and assess the contribution all of us have made to the shaping of modern Ireland . I don't for a moment believe that these future generations will base their judgments on how many millionaires, even billionaires, we created out of Ireland's exceptional economic surges.

I believe that, and rightly so, they will judge us on how we honestly and sympathetically harnessed the fruits of that economic buoyancy to help those of our most vulnerable in society and , also, how we recognised, rewarded and cared for those who helped build and shape the vibrant 21st century Ireland. I earnestly believe that right now all of us have a unique opportunity. It is more than an opportunity. It is a responsibility. How well we do that will be our legacy.


Last modified:15/06/2005