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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.

Age Action Calls for €9 per week Rise In Old Age Pension in Budget 2020

Organisation also proposes that Government commission research on the Cost of Ageing to ensure policy meets needs of ageing population

Age Action, the advocacy organisation for older people, has called for the state’s Old Age Pension to increase by €9 per week in Budget 2020. The call was made at today’s Pre-Budget Forum, which is being organised by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is being held in Dublin Castle’s Conference Centre.

Celine Clarke, Age Action’s Head of Advocacy and Communications, said that a €9 increase in the weekly Old Age Pension would be a key step in building towards the Government’s own commitment that the pension should be set at 35% of average weekly earnings.

“The National Pensions Framework was published almost 10 years ago and it committed the Government to benchmarking the Old Age Pension at 35% of average weekly earnings. In order to move the current pension payment towards the delivery of that target, we are calling on the Government to increase the weekly pension payment by €9,” Celine Clarke said.

Ms Clarke provided additional context to Age Action’s call for a €9 per week pension rise, when she explained that in 2009, the weekly income for pensioners depending on the State – when all the benefits were added together – was €265.44, this year it’s €273.63 – only €7.89 higher than it was higher than it was 10 years ago. 

“While pensions have increased by a welcome €5 per week over the last few years, there is no clear and transparent formula informing these increases, and Ireland is also unusual in setting the pension rate in the budget every year. Age Action is urging the Government to consider applying a triple lock formula for pension increases – namely, guaranteeing that the basic State pension will rise by a minimum of either 2.5%, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is the larger.”

In addition to the proposals on pension increases, Age Action is also calling for:

  • The commissioning of research by Government on the Cost of Ageing to inform the development of policy so that the country can meet the needs of our ageing population – a similar exercise has been carried out in relation to the Cost of Disability;
  • Increase the income threshold for all means-tested benefits in line with increases to the Old Age Pension and secondary benefits;
  • Increase the Living Alone Allowance by €5 per week;
  • Increase the Fuel Allowance rate by €2.35 and reintroduce a 32-week payment period.

Pre-Budget Submission to Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection


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