(03 June 2021) Age Action joined the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) for the launch of their report Human Rights in a Pandemic to highlight the lived experience of older people in the context of equality and rights.
In a wide-ranging report published by ICCL emergency measures that restricted rights were challenged. The report calls for Government to take account of how the pandemic has affected marginalised people to avoid entrenching inequality as the country reopens.
Ageism and Human Rights
Paddy Connolly, CEO of Age Action focused attention on the situation of older people living in the nursing homes and the community. He reflected on how the representation of older people as frail, needing protection and requiring cocooning is one of the features of the pandemic which has most upset older people by undermining their agency, their voice and their sense of independence and stake in society. Calling for the establishment of a Commissioner for Older People, Connolly warned that the danger of such embedded perceptions can make their way into institutional practice and policy making. He cited the example of how restrictions on visiting in nursing homes undermined people’s rights including the right to family live and to autonomy even though nursing homes are people’s homes where they should have choice and control over their own lives.
“ICCL emphasises the need for better consultation structures between people and Government. Despite the direct focus of the pandemic on older people, there was a lack of structured consultation by the Government with them and their representative organisations in terms of the design and impact of lockdown measures. The rights of people living in nursing homes were particularly undermined by the visiting restrictions and the known weaknesses in our long-term care infrastructure. Age Action would like to see Government adopt a rights-based protocol for public consultation to ensure that this does not happen again. Age Action continues to call for the appointment of a Commissioner for Older Persons to provide independent voice for older people and accountability from Government” said Paddy Connolly.
Commissioner for Older People
As a step towards promoting the human rights of older people, Age Action are calling for the creation of a distinct office of Commissioner for Older Persons, which could be cost-effectively created as a unit within the Ombudsman’s office. The first task of the Commissioner for Older Persons should be to raise public awareness of ageism, and to take steps to break down negative or demeaning stereotypes of ageing and older people.
Age discrimination has been recognised in the Equal Status Acts since 2000 and in the Employment Equality Acts since 1998. Yet there is a lack of infrastructure to ensure that the rights of older people with respect to their age are respected, protected and fulfilled. For example, there has been an Ombudsman for Children since 2004, which had a budget of €2.7 million in 2019, but there is no equivalent official tasked with promoting the rights and welfare of older people.
In this context, it is important to note that people who are employed or self-employed have access to institutions such as trade unions, professional associations, chambers of commerce, etc. which they can use to raise issues that affect them. However, upon retirement, there is a lack of developed structures to channel the diverse voices of older people.
Communicating Public Health Advice
Speaking at the launch of the report, ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick said:
“The Irish people have shown incredible solidarity in accepting extraordinary restrictions on their rights to protect our communities from Covid-19. It is essential that government moves to restore full enjoyment of rights and democratic accountability as an urgent priority. But rights and freedoms must be restored on an equal basis for everyone. People living in congregated settings such as Direct Provision Centres, Traveller halting sites, and prisons have been more at risk than others. Older people and women have also suffered more. Government must provide accurate information as to the affects of restrictions on different groups so that they can be mitigated in the future.”
The Policing Authority Chief Executive Helen Hall and CEO of Age Action Ireland Paddy Connolly also spoke at the launch of the ICCL report.
Ms Hall said
“From the outset of the pandemic, it was and it continues to be, the strong view of the Policing Authority that as the powers given to the Garda Síochána further encroach on peoples’ liberties and rights, that independent public oversight of policing becomes more important. Through this oversight, we saw the Garda Síochána deeply involved with communities and the protection of the vulnerable, telling us much about the depth and quality of the relationship between community and Gardaí. However, policing during COVID-19 has been challenging and the Authority’s extensive programme of engagement reveals that the policing response was not always felt evenly by all parts of society. The challenge for the Garda Síochána will be to take what has been learned about the needs of communities during this crisis, and use these lessons to serve society with a constantly improving policing service for all.”