Address by Damien English, T.D., Minister for Housing and Urban Development at Fine Gael National Conference

Slieve Russell Hotel, 11th November 2017

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The ageing of our population is of prime significance to Government and presents challenges and opportunities on many levels.

By 2045, it is projected that there will be double the number of 65-year-olds in this country, and we need to make sure that we plan for and cater for our ageing population.

We must recognise the critical role played by older people in society, many of them with skills and expertise already in short supply, who must be given every opportunity to contribute as active members within their wider community.

We must also seek to increase and enhance the opportunities for active participation. The quality of life of the older members of our communities is something that concerns us all, and demands a cohesive, inclusive and comprehensive approach at all decision making levels.

A vital element of the quality of life of older people lies at the decision making at local authority level.

This is the level that is in immediate contact with the community, and indeed is part of the local community. Decisions made at this level greatly determine safety within local communities, the quality of accommodation and the physical environment, service provision and the accessibility to these services.

Such services are of limited use without the means to access and utilise them, and this is true for all members of our communities. In planning to make our communities age friendly, we also meet the needs of many other service users.

The planning of such services is vital, as poor decision making can have the counter effect of causing rather than solving problems. Of course appropriate decision making and planning will benefit many service users, and it is critical that local authorities take the key leadership role of bringing together relevant agencies and service providers.

Central to the planning of such services is consultation with services users, involving them in the decision making process.

The establishment of Older People Councils has ensured this consultation, and has allowed plans to be developed and agreed locally, providing inclusion, involvement and accountability for all key stakeholders.

This approach represents local government at its best and it is a prime example of giving effect to the need for integrated services through thorough engagement and planning.

It is Government policy to support older people to live independently and with dignity in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.

While acknowledging the effect that this can have on reducing reliance on health and social services, the benefits to the individual in terms of well-being and community inclusion are of equal, if not greater importance. After all, it is the individual who is the heart of the community. It’s really about making Ireland a great place to grow old.

In terms of my own brief, older people have specific housing requirements, including proximity to family and social networks. Access to public and other essential services, recreation and amenities is also vital. Therefore, there is a requirement for a range of housing choices and options to be made available to older people, involving a cross Departmental, multi agency approach.

Following a housing summit two years ago, an inter-agency Housing Working Group led by Age Friendly Ireland set out to explore the options to better accommodate older people within their community rather than in residential care. They carried out extensive research, workshops with older persons, and there was active collaboration between stakeholders including the Irish Council for Social Housing, the HSE, the Department of Health, Dublin City Council and my own Department.

Among the recommendations put forward in the Report is the development of a pilot project of 50 – 60 dwellings suitable for the elderly. A steering committee has already been formed to oversee progress.

It is intended that the collaborative process, leading to the commencement of the project, will set the standard for roll-out of future schemes.

Of course, the challenge will then be how to take local models of good practice to a wider network, in a way that consistently applies age friendly initiatives.

Key to this is innovation, and developing adaptable and smart homes to support assisted living for older people in their homes.

In this context, the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness committed to supporting a design challenge to provide solutions for older people within the built environment.

As mentioned, the challenge for all of us is to ensure cooperation and teamwork between service providers.

An example of this is the case of the Age Friendly Programme, which provides a real opportunity to transform communities in a positive and collaborative environment, to make them as age friendly and inclusive as possible.

The programme allows us to learn from each other and be better placed to deliver the services older people within our communities deserve.

We all need to be involved in taking the strong foundations of the community and building on them.

It is, without a doubt, the people that make a community work, as the old Irish saying goes ‘Ní neart go chur le chéile’ – there is no strength without unity!

Together, we need to build and perpetuate that vital sense of community that has and always will be the bedrock of Irish society, whether that is through leading, or supporting those leaders, towards the development of age friendly communities throughout Ireland and across Europe.

Thank you.

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