After speaking to people from all over the constituency, holding public meetings, doing press interviews, writing editorials and even flying a plane over Croke Park – I’m delighted to see that my promotion of the issue has played a part in getting the government to commit to increasing the inheritance tax to €500k if they get re – elected – something that many of my elder constituents were extremely concerned about.
I have always prided myself on the passion that I have in fighting to ensure that nobody is taken advantage of, and not taking no for an answer – particularly when misinformed and discriminatory moves are made that affect older people in the community.
However, the battle has only begun, as the current government has a serious track record of promising the world away only to go back on their word when the dust has settled.
We live in an age where fighting bigotry and discrimination can make a real difference as seen in the recent Yes Campaign.
While we have seen great leaps in equality in areas such as sexual orientation, there seems to be a reluctance to champion a cause that will affect everybody at some stage – and that is the discriminatory way in which this government has treated our over 65s for the past 5 years.
Ageism is alive and well, affecting thousands of people and having a hugely negative impact on the quality of life of those who are most vulnerable.
I have highlighted 3 issues that urgently need to be tackled, and these are issues which I am consistently bringing to the attention of the current government in doing all that I can to bring about awareness and ultimately positive change.
1. Employment Equality
This notion that en masse, over 65s should hang up the boots and distinguish any goals or ambitions they might have – purely based on their age – is an extremely unscientific approach and quite frankly, an appalling way to treat a certain tranche of our society that has given so much to the development of Ireland.
Each year, thousands of able and sharp minded people are forced into compulsory retirement, which is a terrible predicament to be in if you are in full health and want to keep working.
Purely from a practical point of view, the state is paying out millions and millions in pensions to retired public sectors workers. Many of these would love to stay on, and this not simply a case of being charitable and fair – there would be no extra cost to the exchequer, which would ultimately lead to the state being more productive, and save money.
I’m not saying that we should have over 70 year old Gardai with bad legs patrolling the streets, or 75 year old pilots with fading eye sight flying commercial aircraft – but there are plenty of people who have a full mental capacity and the physical capability to continue in numerous roles that would actually derive a huge benefit from their experience.
The Fine Gael and Labour Government have made a step in the right direction by introducing the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014 which I contributing to during the Joint Oireachtas Committee committee stage, however this critical Bill has still not been prioritised by the current government.
I have put a huge amount of energy and resources into getting this legislation changed – and I will continue to highlight this issue and challenge the apathetic view this government has, who are clearly not in any mood to deal with it and hoping it just disappears under a pile of bureaucracy
2. Breast Check
I first published a policy paper recommending free BreastCheck screenings in 2006 (A New Approach to Ageing and Ageism – http://www.senatormarywhite.ie/issues/a-new-approach-to-ageing-ageism) and I have been campaigning for its introduction ever since.
When Minister Varadkar announced that free BreastCheck screenings be rolled out to women between the ages of 65 and 69, I was naturally delighted, and the Irish Cancer Society came out and said that it would save a minimum of 87 women’s lives a year.
What WASN’T made clear was that these screenings would not commence until the 4th quarter of 2015 and would not be fully implemented until 2021.
Fianna Fáil’s Health spokesperson Billy Kelleher TD tabled a Parliamentary Question asking the Minister for Health how many women aged 65-69 had availed of the service.
In his response the Minister said an invitation from Breast Check had been sent to 1,000 women in this age group and that last year 500 had been screened. The additional eligible population is approximately 100,000. For only 1,000 out of 100,000 to be invited for Breast Check is a disgrace. Fine Gael promised the extension of this scheme in their Programme for Government but their response to date is a complete farce.
This age group has the second highest incidence of breast cancer. The Irish Cancer Society has quoted international studies that at least two lives will be saved for every 500 screened.
Judging by that measure only one woman in that age group is going to be saved by this extension of the service.
This is typical of this government’s philosophy in office so far – make big promises, and then hope people don’t kick up a fuss when they are found out to be weaving elaborate spin.
This is infuriating, but to target the supposed weakest in society with these half-truths is unbelievably insulting.
Irish women are dying unnecessarily because of this Government’s continued failure to make the service available to 65-69 year olds, and this is something I am not going to take lying down – I will continue to fight to ensure that over 65s have a voice representing them that can actually make a difference
Immediately after then Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly took office in March 2011, he promised to abolish the 50c prescription charge. Two years later he trebled the charge, and then added an extra €1 to the charge in Budget 2014.
The then Minister increased the monthly cap on prescription charges from €19.50 to €25 per family in December 2013 – a rise of 28%.
Again, the government are guilty of trying to brush this under the carpet, but there is no escaping that what they have done means an older husband and wife are paying €25 a month in prescription charges – an essential service for many, regardless if they can afford it or not.
I am determined to do all I can to stop this personally pledge that I will ensure that Fianna Fail enacts its promise in relation to the phased abolition of prescription charges.
The scary thing is that these are not isolated incidents.
Time and time again we see promises made, that are then blatantly broken.
This is not political hyperbole or rhetoric – this is simply just fact.
I am determined to do all I can to stop this landslide of inequality that has been continuing unabated against over 65s.
We need a voice, but I can’t do it without you.
I have never shirked a challenge in my time in public office so far, and I will not stop highlighting these discrepancies in our society that affect so many.
If any of you would like to get in touch with me, please don’t hesitate and we can see how we can solve these issues together.