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UN expert confirms older people need more protection

Lianne Murphy | Age Action | Ageing and Development | Tanzania
Written by: Lianne Murphy
Ageing & Development Officer


The UN Independent Expert on older people and human rights, Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, has published a report which campaigners hope will energise the fight for a new international human rights treaty specifically for older people, writes Lianne Murphy.

Regular readers of the Age Action blog will know that discussion has been ongoing at the UN level for a number of years on whether a new treaty is necessary with some countries arguing that older people have enough protection.

However, Ms Kornfeld-Matte’s report concludes the that current international policy document on older people, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, falls far short of what older people need.

She goes on to call on all UN member states, including Ireland, to consider a new treaty on the rights of older people.

Age Action strongly supports this position and believes that a convention would help older people here in Ireland and around the world.

It would bring clarity to the nature of older persons’ rights and also provide a way to deal with challenging issues that primarily affect older people such as elder abuse, long-term care and pensions. 

Older people failed

The current international human rights system has failed to do this and older people are almost never mentioned in existing human rights law. Like so many other areas, older people are invisible.

Age Action has been in contact with both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health to support the growing call for a new treaty at the Open Ended Working group on Ageing at the UN where it is going to be discussed from 12-15 December. To date, the Irish Government has been reluctant to support a new treaty.

However, we hope that the independent expert’s report and support from TDs and senators backing the campaign will encourage Ireland to act to effectively protect the rights of older women and men.

You can help! Write to Minister Charlie Flanagan TD, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 80 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2 and the Minister responsible for Older People, Minister Helen McEntee TD, Department of Health, Hawkins House, Hawkins St, Dublin 2 and tell them to support a new human rights treaty for older people. 



I fully support this call for older persons to be more fully protected by human rights. My own experience as a woman age 64 with a rare neuro-muscular disease in Ireland is one of 'medical neglect' . From the point of consultations in hospitals with consultants to primary care (HSE) in the community the most common attitude I experience is "you are too old to do tests, treat, and support". No-one actually articulates this (that would be professionally unethical) however there are means and ways of denying a service. The professional only has to argue "its not warranted or necessary" and the professional is believed. There is no good complaining to 'your say-your service', which only results in a HSE manager investigating (usually) the person whom you are complaining about for whom they are managerially responsible for. Thus this conflict of interest is very clear. How will this investigator say the person they manage is negligent. Ditto the ombudsman's office. The majority of HSE complaints are NOT upheld. This is because of bias I believe and the ability of the HSE to have top legal representation whilst the older person cannot. You can complain to the hospital but that results in another conflict of interest investigation process. After a while you are deemed somehow 'mad' for raising complaints at all and further medical neglect and refusal of treatment ensues. There is a very, very strong 'medical elder apartheid' they resources for older persons medical and community care is not allocated. We are the 'useless eaters'; as Hitler called the sick, old, disabled, and others deemed not viable citizens - he gassed them. They don't do that but by subtle means we are being metaphorically 'gassed'. I have experienced this 'older-persons' 'euthanasia by stealth, I fight it with all my might, but its pernicious, nasty and common. I don't think I'm paranoid. I'm a former academic in social care. I see the reality. its very frightening indeed.

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Raising the Roof - Homes for All Ages

Raise the Roof Rally for Housing 18 May

Preparing to Raise the Roof

Age Action, motivated by intergenerational solidarity, is joining the Raise the Roof campaign to tackle the continuing housing crisis that is affecting people of all ages.  People are being mobilised through trade unions and community organisations, to stage a major national rally on the housing crisis under the banner of Raise the Roof, in Dublin on Saturday May 18.

When people take an interest in what is happening in their local community, seek solutions to problems and initiate improvements they are being active citizens. Community is the foundational building block of society and housing is fundamental to community. Ireland’s housing crisis is rightly dominating public discourse as it undermines our ability to live with dignity as part of a community.  Ireland’s changing demographic brings with it a changing demand for homes that meet the needs of an ageing population.

The Government’s failure to deliver on a whole of Government approach to ageing and provide good quality social housing to meet demand has resulted in older people feeling subjected to negative, ageist language about their needs and wishes for suitable housing and health supports as is evidenced in the narrative on ‘down-sizing’ or ‘right-sizing’.

In the 60s and 70s the State implemented policies to support owner occupation of housing. People on lower incomes were able to buy their own homes which went some way to addressing wealth inequalities. According to Professor Tony Fahey, writing in Social Justice Ireland’s book ‘From Here to Where?’, by the year 2000 even low-income households owned substantial housing wealth and were less disadvantaged by inequalities in housing wealth than they were by inequalities in income.

Most of the growing population of young private renters today grew up in homes that were owned by their parents. Prof Fahey identified the essential features of secure long-term housing as being affordable, and having secure tenure. As he says, “today’s private rented housing has neither of these features”.

Looking at the future needs of an ageing population, for those aged 50-54 almost 10% were renting from private landlords at the time of Census 2016. It can be assumed that these people will continue in the rental market beyond their working years which leaves them in a vulnerable situation.

We encourage any and all of you who can to be active citizens and march with us on Saturday May 18 in a show of intergenerational solidarity. We will be gathering at 1pm at Parnell Square. You will find us behind an Age Action banner. At 2pm we will march down O'Connell Street towards Custom House Quay and join the Rally for Housing (location to be confirmed) by 3pm.

For more information about the campaign visit