THIRD AGE, along with other Older and Bolder member organisations and Age Action, has done much to change Irish attitudes to older people. Ageing is at least on the agenda, and although the long-delayed National Positive Ageing Strategy is still being crafted, Kathleen Lynch has brought much-needed political muscle to the older people’s ministerial post. And if the politicians and the general public needed any reminding, the fiery 2008 demonstrations against medical card cuts have demonstrated the potency of the grey vote.
Away from the political hurly-burly, however, older people have been quietly contributing to their communities, not just through their traditional nurturing of grandchildren, spouses and relatives, but also in many non-governmental organisations. The volunteers at Third Age in Summerhill, Co Meath, and elsewhere in the country, exemplify this. Among other activities, since 1998 its Senior Helpline has been welcoming telephone calls from older people, many of them isolated, lonely and seeking social contact.
Continuing its ethos of inclusivity, celebration of diversity, and mutual support, Third Age today in Dublin is highlighting its Fáilte Isteach programme. It is stressing that there are many sectors of Irish society in need of welcoming, nurturing and support, particularly our migrants who may struggle with proficiency in English. To tackle this, volunteers throughout the country provide English conversational classes to people of varying national backgrounds, many of whom may be floundering as they try to communicate with the indigenous population.
There are incalculable benefits in such a programme for migrants. It helps them deal with bureaucracy and the normal routines of shopping, visiting the doctor, or assisting with children’s homework. Everyone gains: not just the teacher and the taught, but also the wider community. Projects such as this, even in the attitudes they convey, help Ireland to become a better place for people to be born, live, and grow old. They also focus on the need for dignity, comfort and choice at end of life,grounded on a life-cycle principle that wholeheartedly respects each stage of life and every person on that stage.
Third Age and its allies are doing the State some service. They deserve solid evidence of political will to support older people at home, and to facilitate them to participate in society.