International Conference Helps to Strengthen the Voice of Older People in Ireland

Posted on: 18 September 2009

The challenges facing older people in society were addressed at a major conference organised by the Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre (SPARC) of Trinity College Dublin and Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) of Queen’s University Belfast. The first international conference of its kind held in Ireland entitled Planning Together: Policy and Participation in Ageing Societies, took place at Queen’s University on September 16th and 17th last.

Experts, policy makers, stakeholders, researchers and voluntary workers from the UK, Ireland and USA attended the conference to discuss developments on topics such as the challenges facing older people who care for adult children, issues affecting older people in transnational communities, and attitudes to older people in Ireland. The conference explored international best practice regarding questions that are at the heart of SPARC’s and CAP’s work, in particular how best to increase participation so that policy for older people is driven by older people and designed for an ageing population.

Dr Virpi Timonen, Director of the Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre (SPARC) at Trinity College Dublin said: “Older people often experience sub-standard or unequal treatment because of how services are organised and how policies are formulated. It is vital that the position of older people and groups working on their behalf be strengthened if the potential of old age is to be fulfilled.

“Population ageing creates an opportunity to reshape many policies and services to better suit the needs of older people. The implications of population ageing faces policy-makers, service planners and researchers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in much the same way and this conference presents an invaluable opportunity for all of the main players in the ageing sector, North and South, to learn together.”

“Societies across the world are ageing and must adapt their policies to this demographic shift. We need to develop better health, employment, care and education policies to respond to the needs of an ageing population and, most importantly, we must involve older people in the development of these policies. This conference will make a valuable contribution in strengthening the voice of older people in policy-making in Northern Ireland”, stated Professor Sally Wheeler, Director of the Institute of Governance at Queen’s School of Law.

“The main aim of CAP is to give older people a voice, empowering them to influence the decisions that ultimately have an impact on their lives. Policy development is often driven by research, and this conference provides an excellent opportunity for decision makers and researchers to hear from older people about the issues that affect them.”

Speakers at the conference included Professor Chris Phillipson, of the Centre for Social Gerontology, University of Keele; Professor James McCarthy of the City University of New York; Professor Ian Deary, Chair in Differential Psychology of the University of Edinburgh;  Professor Rose Anne Kenny, Head of the Department of Medical Gerontology, Trinity College Dublin and Principal Investigator of The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA);  Professor Brendan McCormack, University of Ulster and Chairperson of the new charity, Age Concern Help the Aged NI, as well as advocates for older people including Dr Susanne Sorensen of the UK’s Alzheimer Society and Dame Joan Harbison, the Older People’s Advocate in Northern Ireland. All major older people’s interest groups from both the North and the South also participated.

The Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre (SPARC) at Trinity College Dublin was established in 2005 with the view to analysing the social policy ramifications of population ageing in Ireland and in the comparative perspective. Fundamental to the Centre’s work is the belief that research has a central role to play in making Ireland a better place to grow old in.

The Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) was established in December 2005 to improve the quality of life for older people.  Funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies for five years, the partnership brings together Age Concern Help the Aged NI, the Workers’ Educational Association and Queen’s University Belfast. The CAP vision is of a ‘strong informed voice capable of challenging and changing attitudes and approaches to ageing’.