President criticises campaign ageism


PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said the ageist treatment of him during the presidential campaign was “quite scandalous at times”, with regular questions about whether he was able to walk.

He was speaking in Dublin Castle as he launched the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations. “I’m just after a long experience of bias myself during the campaign for the presidency,” he said. “It was quite scandalous at times. One answers to the questions of whether one is mobile or able to walk. ‘How’s your knee?’ My knee is excellent,” he said.

The questions about his age came primarily from relatively young reporters “who come from the school of journalism that suggests you must ask the aggressive question if you are to get anywhere. They didn’t come from older journalists. They didn’t come from the public. And I was on the road 14 months so I can speak with some authority on this”.

He said it was important that discussions about ageing did not start with the needs of the economy but started with society. “If you start speaking about the economy first you end up with a ridiculous situation . . . of regarding markets as rational and the people as irrational . . . or the economy is rational in its demands and older people being somewhat irrational in wanting to exist at all.”

Respect for people from different generations made life better for all, he said. “There is in people a fine binding ethical instinct of wanting to achieve intergenerational solidarity as an aspect of our lives.”

Mr Higgins said some of the people who have been driven into the most desperate conditions because of the recession would not be able to manage if it wasn’t for the older generation providing childcare.

He also encouraged older people to feel free to follow their own dreams and not fall into the role of carer just because they have reached a certain age. “We should be able to lead these multifaceted creative lives.”

Gerontologist Rose Anne Kenny of TCD and St James’s Hospital said it was a myth that old people did not enjoy life. Quality of life between the ages of 50 and 90 peaked at 70-75 years and did not return to the level experienced by 50-year-olds until after 85.

The myth that older people were a drain on society was debunked by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, she said.

Some 25 per cent of older people contributed significant gifts to their children – the average money gift was €20,000 – but only 9 per cent of older adults received financial transfers from their children.

One-third of older people did household tasks for their children, while half provided care for grandchildren. “So [saying] that older people are a drain on family and society is an absolute nonsense,” she said.

Prof Kenny said the ageing global population provided huge opportunities for Ireland. “I am proposing that we in Ireland create a labour force around this phenomenon.”

She said Ireland should specialise in research and development around ageing, in providing services, new models of service delivery and new technologies. “It’s a ripe environment for which we can become known as the go-to place for knowledge in this space.”