Launch of ‘Being Age Friendly in the Public Realm’
Meath County Council Chambers, Navan, 18th October, 2016
Cathaoirleach, Mayor, Minister McEntee, elected members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen I am delighted to be here today. Thank you to Meath County Council and Age Friendly Ireland for the invitation.
Local government has a very clear purpose and a definite direction. The policy document ‘Putting People First’ drives that direction that we are all going in. It has prompted City and County Councils to identify the functions most relevant at local level and, in particular, the functions that Councilsmust take a strong lead on.
Empowering the citizen to participate in the development of their community, both rural and urban, is central to this new model of governance and service delivery.
I am very mindful that ageing is not solely a health issue – it requires awhole of Government response. The challenges and opportunities associated with an ageing population can be met and indeed exploited by planning now on a whole of Government basis. I am delighted therefore to be here today with my Ministerial colleague Helen McEntee.
The Age Friendly Programme approach represents a real exemplar of good integrated and devolved local government. The city and county wide consultation processes that are central to the Age Friendly Programme provide a key means for the voice of the older person to be heard and for this voice to influence and inform local decision making.
Government policy is to support older people to live with dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. In respect of my own Department I am very conscious that housing has a key role to play in supporting older people to age comfortably in the community they belong to.
I am also very aware of the important role of the public realm in supporting access and participation.
As people age they spend more time in and close to their own homes. This means that older people’s quality of life, and thus their health, can depend on how age aware or age attuned our public realm is.
The design and maintenance of a community’s built environment can make the difference between a healthy and active lifestyle, or one characterised by limited mobility and high levels of social isolation. The way an area looks and how safe it feels has a big impact on older people’s confidence and motivation.
‘Being Age Friendly in the Public Realm’ – this document being launched today – is a very practical resource. It brings together many of the key approaches introduced across recent years which have helped to make our outdoor spaces and public realm pleasant, clean, accessible and safe for older people, creating walkable communities and more age friendly spaces.
Very often simple things will improve everyone’s access and thus their confidence to stay engaged and to participate in the wider community. Practical changes to public seating, our parks and green areas can have an impact on older people’s motivation to stay active.
The introduction of tone zones has encouraged people of all ages to enjoy more connected lives. Age Friendly parking, pedestrian crossings and signage that is ‘age aware’ can support older people to feel safer when out and about, and so feel more confident to stay active and to participate in the wider community
I welcome these practical resource documents and the associated programme of training on ‘age friendly housing and the public realm’ developed by Age Friendly Ireland. I am particularly pleased to see this very local age friendly work being supported so actively by Meath County Council, the age Friendly Alliance and the Older People’s Council across towns such as Kells and Trim.
It is through this kind of leadership and innovation and resources such as this that we will be better supported to scale up these local, proven and very often practical models into the consistent application of age friendly initiatives across a wider geography – be that all the way across Meath or indeed all the way across Ireland.
The Age Friendly Towns programme, which has supported change at the level of the town, village and neighbourhood, has shown how very practical and low cost, and at times ‘no-cost’ interventions, can make a big difference to the lives of older people.
It is through this kind of practical planning that we will be better placed to meet the challenges that lie ahead for our older citizens. I am delighted therefore to be here today to support its launch.