I would like to thank Maureen Kavanagh, CEO, for her kind invitation to speak at this AGM. It has also been my great pleasure to accept your invitation to become patron of Active Retirement Network Ireland and I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution to the organisation of Tom O'Mahony, outgoing ARI President, over the past six years.
Society suggests a great loss of ageism is allowed to exclude those with experience, wisdom, skills and competence. Older people’s wisdom includes a vital critical capacity.
In Ireland in recent years, we have learned many lessons that tell us that we were not best served by some individuals in positions of influence and power, in whom trust had been placed and organisations allowed to self-regulate; individuals and organisations considered to be the very pillars of society.
What we must guard against into the future is any possible restoration of that form of uncritical quietude that we succumbed to, allowing those organisations and individuals unbridled power, influence, and authority.
The 23,000 members of your Network operating in more than 500 locations are I believe well equipped to speak authoritatively about the type of future we wish to aspire to, envision, the values we wish to reclaim, those we recently acquired and wish to cast off, the type of ethical behaviour we expect and demand of people in positions of power and influence and authority, in organisational life, commercial life, in public service and office.
As to aging itself - initial results emerging from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), published in May last. This Report, entitled “Fifty Plus in Ireland 2011”, is the most detailed study on ageing ever undertaken in this country.
The findings show that over one third of older people provide practical household help to their children and with almost half also providing care for grandchildren, a vital support is offered to working parents.
TILDA underlines the fact that spouses are often the primary carers for older people with disabilities and that in relation to volunteering one in five older people engage in voluntary work at least once a week. What a very different story would be told throughout our island if the commitment, talent, experience and good common sense of our older generation was not harnessed by so many communities and voluntary organisations.
A few weeks ago (9th February) I spoke at the launch of the ‘European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations 2012.’ The Year reflects on how Europeans are living longer and staying healthier than ever before — and to realise the obvious opportunities that this represents through promoting active ageing across the continent. I understand that Active Retirement are also playing their part, through membership of the Steering Committee, and are planning a special Activity Day nationally on 23 May next to mark this initiative.
I spoke of how in this year, we, as a nation, have an opportunity to shine a light on the significant contributions that older people continue to make in society; a far reaching light that looks beyond the artificial barrier of working retirement age which so many people use to define a person’s usefulness and value to society.
This year we can ensure that the light shines beyond the stereotypes and focuses on older people as the mentors, caregivers, child-minders, volunteers, advisers, neighbours, advocates, artists they are and for all the many important roles that they continue to play in society beyond their retirement, at least from paid employment!
I spoke of the opportunity that we are given to remember that our senior citizens are carriers of wisdom and experience; are the generation that made huge personal sacrifices to support and rear their families during previous difficult times; the generation that had the resilience to survive an economy that was far from optimal; and the far seeing generation who looked past the obstacles in order to ensure their children got the education and the opportunities that they themselves never had, recognising that a well educated population would be an important cornerstone of our future economic development.
It is impossible, in fact, to overestimate the positive contribution that our older citizens have made to Irish society and how much we can continue to reap from their talent, experience, their character and their wisdom. ‘Tá onóir ag an aois agus uaisle ag an óige,’ is a saying in the Irish language that reflects the esteem held for older people and that there is great honour in aging.
In my inauguration speech, I emphasised that we must seek to build an active, inclusive citizenship – where those of all ages can make a practical contribution to the years ahead, mixing experience and innovation.
We should strive for an Ireland in which all are encouraged to think positively about our own ageing, and to plan sensibly for our individual and national well-being. The real Republic we aspire to is one that celebrates the enormous contributions of all sections of our society and all generations, the contribution that older people have made and continue to make - whether to our economy or community life – or the spheres of learning, literature and the arts is a valuable part of that. It is one in which we support people in their efforts to be healthy, to live independently and be full and active participants in their communities as they grow older.
Your Network of organisations above all else enables people to participate in their communities. It provides a platform for the concerns and issues of older people to be addressed at local, regional and national levels. The Network, makes a substantial contribution for example, through Tidy Towns, Credit Unions, and Meals on Wheels and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It is such involvement that not only strengthens a community but can promote a sense of belonging and value for each individual.
The links that are forged through participation can and do enhance people’s lives. Social interaction is essential for our emotional well-being. However, there are people who live in isolation not just in rural Ireland, but also in our towns and cities. The instance of suicide in Ireland is worrying not least amongst older men. A report published in 2010 tells us that during the ten years period 1997 – 2006 there were 921 suicides in the over 55’s age group in Ireland of which 75% (691) were men and 25% (230) were women. (Source - International Psychogeriatrics Association – Suicide and Deliberate Self Harm in Older Irish Adults, 2010).
Isolation leads to unforeseen situations. Only very recently we learned of the sad passing of a man in Wexford who died at Christmas and was only discovered three months later when a passerby noticed that Christmas tree lights still burned in his house. A reminder, if one is needed, that we can be surrounded by people and yet alone. Thankfully there are many organisations and individuals who work tirelessly to combat isolation and as a consequence ensure such stories are fewer than they might be.
The Active Retirement Network Ireland celebrates ageing, your ethos to enable older people live a full and active life and advocate for them. As the largest community-based older people’s association in Ireland, the success of the Network in achieving such a wide representation (involving 536 groups and approaching 23,000 members) across Ireland bears testimony to the important and life-enhancing work that you do. I believe that next year will mark the 35th birthday of the Network and I congratulate you in anticipation of achieving that milestone. I wish you continued success in all the years ahead and thank you again for inviting me here today.
Go raibh maith agaibh.