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National Positive Ageing Strategy Implementation (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley] Pushing out the qualifying age for pensions but retaining the mandatory retirement age is being presented as a stop gap. The latest step is to get people who have just retired and who now cannot draw down their pension to sign on for a few years. A high level work and retirement forum has been set up by the Minister for Social Protection to address these anomalies, but it is a classic example of a lack of planning where the stable door is closed after the horse has bolted.

  I would have thought that to reach the end of the European year for active ageing and solidarity between generations and not have successfully concluded the publication of the national positive ageing strategy is embarrassing for the Government, and especially for the Minister concerned. As part of the development of the strategy, a group was established called the non-governmental organisation liaison group to feed in to the development of the strategy. Thus far, however, that group has not seen a draft. This is a complete indictment of our policy developers, yet it seems to be the modus operandi for this Department. An effort has been made to keep sectoral experts at arm's length as opposed to engaging fully with them as key and valued partners.

  It has been suggested to the Older and Bolder organisation that the interdepartmental group set up across the various Departments has been dragging its heels on this matter. It has not even been able to get the list of who constitutes the current interdepartmental group. In the absence of a political champion in this House pushing hard for this, and the fact we are still waiting indicates that there is no such urgency, we will continue waiting.

  In Ireland, people are living longer and have more years of healthy active living than previous generations enjoyed. As the lifespan of older people extends, the frailties and disabilities which affect them need a caring effective response. As Ireland becomes a more urban society and more socially fragmented, social isolation and its many negative impacts on older people need to be recognised and countered.

  The economic recession hits all sections of our society but has particularly severe consequences for older people, which also deserve to be identified and mitigated. Earlier this year, my party published a policy on ageing which was founded on two principles. One is recognising the potential of our ageing population to contribute to and enrich our society in many diverse ways, given their talents, experience and wisdom, and the many years of healthy life expectancy which most can enjoy. The other is that their human rights as citizens must be affirmed and the many forms of discrimination on grounds of age against them must be exposed and eliminated.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I am responding to the Deputy because the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch is not available. I listened with interest to Deputy Dooley. He is living in the fantasy world occupied by the rest of his Fianna Fáil colleagues. He seems to be in denial of his party's responsibility for the destruction of the economy and fiscal base of this State. He is also in denial of his party's responsibility for entering into the agreement necessary with the troika, and in denial of his party signing on to arrangements with the troika which require annually a substantial reduction in the funds borrowed by this State to pay for essential services, and a consequent need for a reduction in public expenditure. There is not a single item affecting a reduction in public expenditure to which the Fianna Fáil Party is in agreement. One wonders if, when they entered into the agreement with the troika, they had any particular knowledge of what they were doing or any idea of how they would implement it. If there are difficulties of a financial nature confronting some elderly people, the foundation for those difficulties was tragically laid by the gross ineptitude of the Government in which Deputy Dooley's party played a leadership role.

As regards the specifics of some of the issues the Deputy raised, the programme for Government has committed to completing and implementing the national positive ageing strategy in order that older people are recognised, supported and enabled to live independent full lives. While Ireland currently has a significantly younger population profile than most of the rest of the EU and a higher birth rate, demographic projections point to significantly greater numbers of older people living in the State in the years ahead. The population of Ireland is, therefore, projected to age rapidly within a relatively short time.

Traditionally, old age has been associated with retirement, illness and dependency. Policies and services that reflect this traditional view of society do not reflect today's reality. Indeed, most people now remain independent into very old age. Planning for ageing populations must take account of the fact that a range of factors impact on a person's health and quality of life as he or she grows older. Those factors include, for example, socio-economic status, housing, transport, education, employment and wider social interactions. This planning process also recognises that the challenges and opportunities to be presented by a population with growing numbers of older people demand responses from all sectors of society, including the individual, public, private, community and voluntary sectors.

The national positive ageing strategy will be a high level document outlining Ireland's vision for ageing and older people, and the national goals and objectives required to promote positive ageing. It will be an overarching, cross-departmental policy and implementation framework that will be the blueprint for age related policy and service delivery across Government in the years ahead. The strategy will set out a common framework for the development of operational plans by a number of Departments which will clearly set out their objectives relating to older people. Mechanisms designed to monitor the implementation of measures contained in operational plans will also be outlined in the strategy. The intention of the strategy is not to propose new service developments and it will not be prescriptive in relation to the specific actions that will be taken by individual Departments to promote positive ageing. Rather, it will set the strategic direction for Government policy on ageing into the future by outlining the priority areas requiring action. It will be a matter for individual Departments to identify how best they respond to the challenges posed by an ageing population.

A considerable amount of preparatory work has been completed and consultation with other Departments is ongoing. The final drafting of the strategy is proceeding within the Department of Health within the constraints of available staff and other priorities. It is the intention of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that a draft of the strategy will be brought to Government as soon as possible in the new year.

As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have been working with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, in areas that have a cross-departmental impact. Contrary to the perspective painted by Deputy Dooley, the Minister of State is truly and totally committed to the completion of this strategy and is dedicated to the work she is undertaking. I have no doubt that when published, the strategy will make a difference and will have a significant impact well into the future.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I thank the Minister for the detailed reply which was clearly prepared by the Department. As regards his earlier comments, he has become so impressed by his line of defence which seems to lay all blame at the door of the previous Administration, that he clearly did not even listen to what I said. Nowhere did I suggest a greater level of funding was required, but we are talking about a greater level of advanced planning and about developing a strategy for older people - a positive ageing strategy. That does not require the expenditure of additional moneys, nor does it require the Minister to lecture me on how we got to where we are. If I had the time, I might remind the Minister of the positions his party took over the past ten years and the approach he took in the preparation of those economic policies at the time. I might well be minded to alert him to some of the promises he made prior to the most recent general election. He has continued to make many such promises but has yet to deliver on them. This is one such promise.

It is a matter of reassigning resources within the Department. It is about the Government having a positive approach to active ageing. It is also about redeploying resources within the particular Department in order that there will be an appropriate strategy. It will have to take cognisance of the financial resources available. We will have another debate about that but let us develop a strategy based on facts so that when there is a budget, appropriate recognition can be given to the strategy. We can worry about funding it at a later stage, but let us have the facts.

I am pleased that this will be done early in the new year, but we need to get on with it. There is no point saying in September that we will have it in October and when it does not happen then, saying we will have it by Christmas. The Government cannot even get that bit of planning right. It is one thing saying something in advance of an election, but the Government has now been in office for two years and it is still operating month by month. We now have a commitment that it will be early in the new year, but does that mean the first or second term? The Government should show some regard for the elderly who have been so important in building this State. The Government should recognise their experience and talent. They should publish the strategy and then we can have a debate about how it is financed. The Minister can talk about the IMF and I will talk about the promises that Fine Gael made, and we can have more fun.

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