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Ireland needs to walk the walk on elderly issue

Last update - Thursday, November 5, 2009, 09:27 By Priya Rajsekar

The western world can be credited with many positives, but one area that leaves a lot to be desired is its treatment of older people. Somehow, in this fast-paced, materialistic rat race, it appears that the elderly are marginalised and sometimes forgotten.

Unless they are in the news, senior citizens seem to be living in a lonely lost world of their own, waiting for the inevitable. The very people whose generation gave their all in their bid to raise their families through wars and famines are having to struggle for sustenance – or worse, are targeted for taxes, pension cuts and even brutal and sometimes fatal physical attacks.
Have we any cause to applaud our so-called economic progress and high lifestyles if the very people who toiled to get us here are struggling to make ends meet, at a time when – for practical or policy reasons  – they cannot fend for themselves?
I recently heard a woman on national radio taking up the cause of pensioners who might find it hard to socialise if the new drink-driving limits are imposed. Though I have several reservations on the merit of her argument against lowering blood alcohol limits, it was hard to forget the powerful imagery she conjured through her description of what rural life in Ireland could be like.
She mentioned that often it was only the burning lights in cottages that indicated there was life within; when the lights went out, it was safe to assume that the lonely pensioner inside had passed on as well.
It was indeed heartening to witness the public and media support our pensioners received when not so long ago they took to the streets to protect what little was left for their future financial security. The media support and public outcry was instrumental for a U-turn in policy. But what is being done is far from enough.
A recent Irish Times article reported claims by the Older Bolder group – an alliance of seven organisations working with older people – that the elderly are experiencing a “deep sense of worry and insecurity about old-age pension and other supports and services”. No matter how tough the going gets, it is a matter of immense shame if we have to penalise the vulnerable and marginalised members of our society.
Support of the family – the younger generations caring for the old – is a cornerstone of many societies around the world. But Ireland’s immigrants have long faced problems with family reunification. Economic migrants contribute to the economy as much as citizens do, so it is only fair that policies are put in place to permit the parents of migrants to join them if necessary.
Leaving behind an ill or dependent parent is one of the most painful experiences a migrant can go through. Given the complexities and time-consuming procedures that are currently in operation, it is almost impossible to respond to the need of a dependent parent on a timely and sufficient basis. This is not a political or economic issue, but a moral one that is crying out for an immediate change in policy.
As a country that takes pride in its western and Christian values of equality and social inclusion, Ireland needs to walk the walk when it comes to policies that will define the lives of the elderly. Maybe it is time to revisit modern-day definitions of economic prosperity and retrain our focus on improving the quality of life of our most vulnerable.

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer

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