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Older & Bolder: Irish Seniors Organise for Action

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

On a visit to Ireland last week, I got a glimpse of a compelling example of the power that an organized community can have – “The Older & Bolder Campaign,” a collaborative initiative among five organizations working to improve the quality of life for older people throughout the country. These groups are Age Action Ireland, Age & Opportunity, Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, The Senior Help Line and the Irish Hospice Foundation. The campaign is also supported by a broad network of organizations dedicated to the provision of services, information and activities for older people.

The Atlantic Philanthropies is proud to be the funder of this great coalition, and we played a role in helping to coordinate the work of the different organizations involved in it – no small task. “Older & Bolder” formed this spring when the five organizations realized that elections would be held and that there was a chance a new power structure would evolve in Dublin’s parliament. What they were after was simple: for Ireland’s older population to have a place on the agenda of the new government.

The “Older and Bolder” was collaboration at its best. A united effort:

  • informed, trained and then mobilized older people themselves to participate and energize the campaign through regional meetings around the country.
  • mounted an advertising campaign that used billboards to broadly communicate the campaign’s goals.
  • ran a systematic lobbying and communications effort centered on all political parties and key politicians and officials.

These efforts paid off last month when a new coalition government was formed by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern:

1. The Government has designated a Minister of State for Older People, Maire Hoctor, who will be a member of the cabinet committee on social inclusion and take part in all government discussions, collaborating with the various government sectors. Crucially, Ms. Hoctor’s portfolio is not confined to health issues, as is sometimes the case with aging issues, but includes a range of other social exclusion issues that the aged confront every day in Ireland (and around the world as well).

(I’m pleased to note in passing here, with more to come in a future column, that the government did not confine its progressive thinking to older people. It has also appointed a Minister for Integration Policy, Conor Lenihan, something one of our grantees, The Advocacy Immigrant Council of Ireland, has worked for since its inception in 2001.)

2. A public commitment on behalf of the parties involved in the coalition government that they will work to develop a national strategy on aging. Atlantic’s team in Ireland says this is a significant development, an important step forward for the older Irish and those concerned about them.

3. A commitment that all the key stakeholders in the aging community – including the voluntary sector – will be part of the consultative process by which the strategy is developed.

The government is also committed to improving income and employment opportunities and conditions for the older population, as well as to improving transportation access for older people in rural and urban areas.

Prime Minister Ahern has acknowledged that the coordinated and strengthened voice of older people in Ireland contributed to the decisions by government to make these improvements. All in all, quite a success for the “Older and Bolder” campaign.

What’s next? Those involved know that they need to contribute to the development of the national strategy they have helped to spur, and to help keep it on track. They also want to promote positive images of aging and older people, and are also considering the use of litigation to address issues of discrimination and ageism like enforced retirement at age 65 in public sector jobs, or health rationing on age grounds, or the lack of free breast cancer checks for women over that age.

So stay tuned for the second phase of “Older and Bolder.” This inspiring example of community organizing has the makings of even more success, and even more lasting change.

Gara LaMarche