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Human Rights and Older People


Older people as with every other section of the population have human rights as they are inherent to all human beings. To date there has been a lack of discussion and articulation of the human rights of older people in Ireland and internationally.

But as Ireland and the world ages it takes on an added importance to start this discussion. We need to improve the protection of older person’s rights so that older people can fully enjoy their human rights and so we all can continue to participate in and contribute to society as we grow old.

Please browse this section for more information about human rights, the potential for a new international Convention on the Rights of Older People and Age Action’s work on this.

What are human rights?

Human Rights are rights which belong to every individual simply because we are human beings. It does not matter what our nationality, place of residence, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status is.

Human rights are about human dignity as opposed to simply human needs or charity and embody the basic standards without which people cannot realise their inherent human dignity.

We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.

What is international human rights law?

International Human Rights Law refers to both European and UN international human rights instruments. It lays down obligations of governments to act in certain ways or to refrain from certain acts, in order to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Respect means that States must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights.

Protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses.

Fulfil means that States must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights.

International human rights law is primarily made up of International Human Rights Treaties and once ratified; each State must ensure that the Treaty is compatible with its domestic law. Where a mechanism has failed under domestic law in relation to a human rights abuse, an individual may rely on international law mechanisms to seek redress. Please find more information on international human rights law and mechanisms here (PDF, size 69.3 KB).

A new Convention on the Rights of Older People?

The UN has been discussing, at the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA), the rights of older people and whether a new International Convention on the Rights of Older People should be drafted. The General Assembly at the UN established the OEWGA in 2010 and it has met once a year since then at the UN in New York. There is a current lack of consensus on whether a new Convention should be drafted. The negotiation and drafting process for human rights Conventions at the UN is very lengthy and it is not uncommon to take a decade or longer.

The Irish government’s current position is against a new Convention but they do support and participate in the OEWGA process. We in Age Action are urging them to support a new Convention. We are also calling for the participation of older people themselves in the OEWGA in order to ensure the lived experience of older people is heard and informs what is ultimately included in a Convention.

Click here for more information on the OEWGA.

Why is a Convention required?

There are nine International Human Rights Conventions or treaties. Some are universal, e.g. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights and some have been developed to address groups of people who experience particular discrimination or need particular protection, e.g. the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

However there is no Convention on the rights of older people. In addition older people are not specifically mentioned in the universal treaties and are rarely mentioned in commentary or recommendations made by the Committees established to monitor compliance with the treaties.We in Age Action think this is a clear gap in the current international human rights infrastructure that a new Convention would remedy.

A new Convention would also articulate how human rights specifically apply to older people and what measures Governments must take to comply with it. This is currently absent from the international human rights infrastructure. Articles in a new Convention could deal with, e.g.

  • Protection from elder abuse
  • Support in care settings (in nursing homes, in palliative care settings and in the community)
  • Access to social security or pensions
  • Access to age appropriate healthcare
  • Protection from age discrimination

Age Action’s work on human rights

Our policy team makes submissions under the human rights treaties that Ireland has signed up to. Ireland is reviewed, usually every 4-5 years; by a body of international experts that monitor implementation of each treaty e.g. the human rights committee is the body that monitors implementation of the ICCPR. We sometimes make submissions directly to the UN body that is reviewing Ireland and sometimes to civil society collaborations. See the submissions below.

We think it is important in engage with theses international human rights mechanisms to highlight the gaps in protection for the rights of older people in Ireland under the relevant treaties, and to hold the government to account.

We also do advocacy work in order to build support for a new Convention on the Rights of Older People with politicians and decision makers.  To that end we take part in HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action campaign which is calling for a Convention in the Rights of Older People and are members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People. We are also an accredited NGO with the OEWGA and make submissions under this process.

Finally we also raise awareness of human rights and older people by giving talks to older people’s groups.

To sign the Age Demands Action petition for a UN convention on the rights of older people please click here.

Human rights and older persons working group

Age Action is members of the Human Rights and Older Persons Working Group which was set up in 2013. Other members of the working group include Active Retirement Ireland, Active Ageing in Partnership, Age and Opportunity, the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), and Third Age.

The group share a common focus on human rights and older people and focuses both on human rights law and using a human rights based approach. In December 2013, the working group launched a policy paper on Human Rights and Older People. For more information on using a human rights based approach click here

Our submissions on human rights and older people:

Note: Links to external websites are included on this page. Age Action is not responsible for the contents of external websites.

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



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