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Independent Commissioner for Older People - A Sinn Féin commitment

19 December, 2006

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Older People, Newry Armagh MLA Pat O'Rawe has said that all party agreement on the creation of an Independent Commissioner for Older People sent out a very positive signal.

Ms O'Rawe was speaking after the DUP accepted a joint Sinn Féin and SDLP amendment brought forward through Help the Aged and Age Concern to a motion that was debated in the transitional Assembly today.

Speaking during the debate Ms O'Rawe said:

"In Ireland by the year 2020, more than half the population will be over 60. Yet increasingly older people are marginalised. They are no longer willing to be marginalised, or treated as less than equal citizens. Campaigns by Help the Aged, Age Concern and others have moved the issues affecting older people from the periphery to the centre of the political debate. Negative attitudes to ageing, across this island have prevented the development of the policies and structures needed to address poverty, ill health, isolation and violent attacks.

"Earlier this year Sinn Fein outlined our agenda for older when we published our Forget-me-not Charter for Older People. It recommended a number of actions to ensure that the rights of Older People were fully protected, including a Commissioner for Older People. And while there is no magic quick-fix solution to either the cancerous attacks on older people or the wider barriers older people face, it is clear that we need a pro-active centrally driven response.

"In terms of violence directed at older people we need a joined up approach that is grounded in local communities and implemented on the ground where it can make a real difference to the lives of older people. While we need more resources to improve security in the homes of older people that improves safety and the sense of security, such measures only deal with the symptoms they are not a cure for the problem of attacks on older people.

"We need to support older people in realising their vital role in our communities; we are all the losers without their contribution. This means addressing issues such as low income, access to transport, health, education and housing and ensuring that the voices of older people are heard.

"Older people should be consulted in decision making at all levels of government. A Commissioner would provide an important mechanism for challenging and reviewing policy and decision making and would give a focused role in decision making and articulate the demands and rights of older people. The aim of a Commissioner for Older People would be to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of older people. A Commissioner for Older People should have powers of enforcement to enable the process of change that is needed to bring our older people in from the cold."

West Belfast MLA Fra McCann, making his maiden speech in the Assembly said welcomed the putting aside of traditional political animosities to find common ground in agreeing a mechanism to prioritise the needs of older people.

Mr McCann said:

"Agreement sends out a very strong and positive message that we can put traditional political animosities to one side and find common ground. No matter what our political opinion, our background we can all agree that our older people are being sold short - that the lives of older people are being made harder because of the barriers they face - economic barriers, housing problems, difficulties in accessing the services they require.

"A Commissioner would have the necessary powers to effectively promote, safeguard and protect the rights of older people.

"We as politicians have a duty to put right all these practices that discriminates against any section of our community; the obligation is on us to rectify those many wrongs. The unity taking place today sends the all important message that we will be the bringers of change when we have an opportunity.

"The one issue most to the fore at present is that of community safety and how we can make life a safer place for elderly people, how we can all work together tackle this blight which has seen attacks on older people grow over this past several years.

"Fully resourced residents associations I believe would also encourage elderly representation on committees, help break down barriers and feelings of isolation and ensure that the needs of older people within our communities are properly addressed." ENDS

Note to Editors

. 49 per cent of older people live in a household that has income less than £10,000;

. 54 per cent of householders aged 60+ live in fuel poverty;

. Over 80,000 older people live alone;

. 2,020 excess winter deaths among aged 65+ in the winters between 2000 and 2005.

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