Category Archives: Social Change

Age Discrimination in Ireland: Adding a voice

This is the first of three posts on my personal experience of mandatory retirement in Ireland.

Irish Labour TD (Member of Parliament) Anne Ferris has tabled a Bill to abolish mandatory retirement age. The Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill would prohibit employers imposing compulsory retirement ages on their employees. In November last, as a member of Age Action, I was asked to take part in their presentation at the Public Hearings of the Committee stage of the Bill at Leinster House,the seat of our Parliament, the Oireachtas, in Dublin.

Leinster House (Kildare St. entrance)

Leinster House, Dublin. Ireland’s Parliament. (Image oireachtas.ie)

This was my first visit to the Oireachtas and it was appropriate that I was there on a mission about a matter very dear to my heart. I had to vacate my job on my 65th birthday. At age 64 and 364 days I was an acceptable employee, but one day later I was unemployable. My ‘shelf life’ was up; my ‘use by’ date had been reached. Indeed I was fully aware for a long time that my career would grind to a halt at age 65, but I had hoped against hope that new provisions whereby public sector employees who joined after 2004 would not have to retire at age 65, could be extended to serving staff members.This was not to be and my pleas fell on deaf ears. The mandatory retirement age of 65 in the public sector department in which I worked was written in stone, and so agreed with the trade unions. In some departments the mandatory retirement age is 60.

Most of my public sector work colleagues are delighted to retire at age 65 or sooner. Many of them have long service and look forward to the day when they no longer have to work for a living. Some of my colleagues however,dread the day when their earning power is decimated. Like me, they may have entered pensionable employment later in life or they may have been subjected to the highly discriminatory ‘marriage bar’ that only ended in Ireland in the early 1970s. (The marriage bar meant that upon marriage, female employees were no longer eligible to work in the public sector and banks). Shorter working lives means smaller pensions. On retirement, I suffered a loss of income of 75%, yet my household bills, my medical bills and my mortgage still had to be serviced out of the reduced income. As the Dickens character Mr Micawber famously stated in the book David Copperfield, Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds,nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Committee Lobby

The Committee Lobby in Leinster House. (Image oireachtas.ie)

It was a privilege to be able to add my voice at the Public Hearings of the Committee stage of the proposed legislation at Leinster House and to hear the heartfelt submissions being made by other participants. Some fearful of losing their jobs at compulsory retirement age because of ongoing family commitments, such as children at university for example, mortgage to pay. Others simply wanted to be able to stay and continue doing a good job as they had done for some time, some angry at having to lose their jobs at a particular age, yet not qualifying for state pension for some years afterwards or despairing of a system that allows for the casting aside of a wealth of experience as with doctors and nurses in our health service, just because of an accidental birthday.

Below are links to the official tapes of the Public Hearings at Leinster House. The recording begins at about 34 minutes in, with Age Action opening statement at 36.50 and my (very wobbly) contribution at 39 minutes mark. .

https://oireachtas.heanet.ie/mp4/cr2/cr2_20151118T090000.000005.mp4

There are two further tapes covering all the submissions and discussions at
https://oireachtas.heanet.ie/mp4/cr2/cr2_20151118T090000.000006.mp4 and
https://oireachtas.heanet.ie/mp4/cr2/

In the aftermath of the submissions, I was asked to take part in a number of interviews by the media. Ocean FM, a radio station serving the Sligo/South Donegal area still has a podcast available at this link:

Donegal Woman Claims Age Discrimination At Being Forced To Retire From Job, NWT, Thurs, 19th Nov . I am unsure about how long the link will remain live.

Other interviews were aired on the Pat Kenny Show on  Newstalk and on Highland Radio while the Irish Daily Mail carried articles on two separate days.

Just before Christmas the Final Report  to Government was published and can be seen here.  The Report recommends a change to the existing law and we look forward to a time when  this will become a reality.

http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/media/committees/justice/Final-Report—Retirement-Age.pdf

I would like to express my thanks to Justin Moran and all the Age Action team who do such wonderful work  in raising awareness of issues that directly affect the quality of life of older people in Ireland.

 

 

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Filed under Age Action Ireland, Ageism, Ireland, Living in Ireland, Older workers, Seniors, Social Change, Social Justice

Don’t Stop Me Now!


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This very arresting title headlined an article in Woman’s Way magazine in which I was featured a couple of weeks ago, resulting from an interview/long conversation with the journalist Arlene Harris. Arlene was trying to discover how the lives of people have changed since our younger days and how they are so different to the lives of younger people today, and indeed older people of just a few decades ago because of our attitudes and most of all because of modern technology.
Being featured  with Marie O’Gorman, the renowned Skype Queen and great-grandmother was a real privilege. Imagine teaching your grandchildren to knit on Skype! Marie is a great example of someone who grasped modern technology with both hands, knowing that it would enhance her life and reduce social isolation and shorten the distance between her home in Ireland and her daughter’s home in Armenia.
My own life has been totally transformed by social media and I am fortunate to have as close friends people who live in Australia and the United States. I have met some of these wonderful people in person, and it is as though we have known one another all of our lives. One very special lady has visited me in Ireland and stayed at my home, while I meet other followers on social media on a regular basis at events and confereces across the country..  The encouragement and support of other social media users is phenomenal and can only have a positive effect on older people who may otherwise be living in social isolation.
I am very grateful to Age Action for the inspiration and encouragement to keep going as a ‘Silver Surfer’ and for the excellent programmes they have in place to encourage older people to engage with technology especially through their ‘Getting Started’ classes that run across Ireland. Age Action also co-ordinates U3A , which is an abbreviation for University of the Third Age. I like to think of these as ‘Discovery’ programmes for older people where we can learn from our peers in  the University of Life by sharing skills and life experiences. Bingo and sing alongs are wonderful for many of our generation but are not for everyone. How about outings to historic places, museums, art galleries,concerts, theatre events,long walks or short holidays abroad? The world really is our  oyster!
And a huge ‘thank you’ to Woman’s Way for featuring  Silver Surfers  and spreading the message of a whole new world that is there to be explored in our later years! !
The text of the full Woman’s Way article can be read here  180815 Women’s Way article. (Published with permission). My photo is  by the very talented Eva Birdthistle in Limerick .

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Living in Ireland, Loneliness, Older & Bolder, Older Generation, Social Change

April 7 2014 Changing the future still more

Almost three years ago in May 2011 very many people in Ireland watched in amazement as Elizabeth II, the Queen of Britain paid homage to Irish people who died fighting for freedom from the oppression of her country.  This is a short post I made at that time:

Choosing to change the future:Queen Elizabeth II in Ireland

Living in Ireland, it is hard to ignore the momentous events taking place in our country at the moment.

An Irish army officer at the President’s residence, announces Queen Elizabeth II   –  ”Banríon Eilís a Dó”.

A short time later, an Irish military band plays ‘God Save The Queen, the British national anthem. The location is one of  the most iconic sites in Ireland – the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. The President of Ireland and the British Monarch ascend the 22 steps to the  memorial sculpture to lay wreaths.

The Queen steps forward to lay her wreath. She steps back, then bows her head in respect for those who died for freedom – died fighting against her country. It is a poignant moment.

The one minute’s silence that follows is intense and emotional; it brings a tear to many watching – whether present or watching on television. Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times wrote: ”a host of old ghosts, dear and gentle, fierce and austere, hovered around a small, elderly woman, dressed in pretty ivory and sage, standing in homage before a sculpture inspired by the legend of the tragic Children of Lir and Yeats’s Easter 1916 ”

It was indeed a symbolism beyond words.

 

Today April 7, 2014, the President of Ireland makes the first state visit ever by an Irish head of State to the United Kingdom. It is a proud moment for the many tens of thousands of Irish people who, down the decades, have ‘taken the boat’ out of this country looking for new and better lives across the water. In that Kingdom they sought and they found employment and an escape from poverty. They worked on roads, construction sites, tunnels, building the infrastructure that made Britain, and most importantly, they sent money  home to their families in Ireland.  It is recognized that the money sent by migrant workers  played a large part in the economic and social development of the Irish Republic.
Men and women from Ireland,   be they ‘tatty-hokers’ navvies, radio or tv personalities, actors, authors, clerical workers, soccer players, doctors, nurses, IT consultants, hospitality workers, refuse collectors – have shaped that society and are happy to call it ‘home’. They live there happily without hangups or begrudgery. They are proud of their Irishness, and proud of their British localities. Their Irishness is not defined by an angry agenda based on long gone history  such as that expounded by many of the Irish American diaspora. We in Ireland have moved on – we can look back at our history to see where we have been and learn from it, and we can look forward to changing the future still more.

Over the next few days, President Michael D Higgins as a guest of  Queen Elizabeth and the people of the United Kingdom, is choosing to continue to change the future of our two nations. And once again, the symbolism will be beyond words.

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Michael D. Higgins. President of Ireland Image Wikimedia

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Diaspora, Social Change

Extraordinary Ordinary Women

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Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 when thousands  of events occur all over the world in celebration of  the achievements of women.

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval. International Women’s Day has evolved into a global day of celebration of the achievements of women, socially, politically, and economically. Women’s rights campaigners highlight inequalities and raise money for Charity and  Celebrities the world over associate themselves with the day.

iwd_theme

Inspiring Change

The United Nations  recognized International Women’s Day in 1975 and for the past 19  years it has designated a global theme for the day. Their  theme for 2014 is ‘Inspiring Change’.

The need for change has been very much highlighted by the publication this week of a European Union wide report on violence against women. This report, reveals the startling statistic that one in 3 women across  28 member states of the EU  has experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

It is interesting to note that the United Nations has returned to the need to stop violence against women as a theme for International Women’s Day time and again as can be seen below.

Year       Theme

1999       World free of violence against women

2007      Ending impunity for violence against women and girls

2009      Women and men united to end violence against women and girls

2013       Time for action to end violence against women.

Some groups, countries and organizations select their own theme for IWD. It is not surprising therefore to find that the EU has adopted as its theme ”Preventing Violence Against Women – a Challenge for all”  for IWD in 2014. This is their Poster .

On International Women’s Day  we rightly celebrate our ”celebrity women” who have made a difference to the lives of many, but we must not forget the ordinary women such as the 1 in 3 who suffer abuse who are the most extraordinary of all.

womendayHappy Women’s Day to all my readers!

Further reading/references:

E U Report 2014

The Guardian Report

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Filed under Healthy Living, International Women's Day, Ireland, Social Change

Silver Surfer Awards 2013 with Google and Age Action

I was delighted to receive an invitation  for myself and a guest to the award ceremony for the Google Silver Surfer Awards with Age Action, which took place in Dublin  on Wednesday last. I was thrilled to be back in Google, with Louise, for the first time since I won the  Social Networking Award in 2011, and to meet again with the stalwarts of Age Action – Robin Webster, Eamon Timmins and Pauline Power.

Google  epitomizes everything that is young, innovative and fun. This is clear from the moment you step through the front door! All the more wonderful then that they sponsor the annual Silver Surfer Awards that celebrate older people and technology. A perfect marriage in many ways.

The ceremony took place in the spacious and comfortable state of the art Google auditorium. We were entertained by the talented Bugle Babes with their Andrews Sisters type repertoire and  harmonies, and their (perfectly straight) seamed stockings (George Hook checked them out).Their singing was beautiful and well enjoyed by everyone!

The ever young George Hook, broadcaster, journalist and rugby pundit hosted  the ceremony with great wit and humour, and Mr Pat Rabbitte, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources attended – both of whom are, appropriately enough, Seniors.  Minister Rabbitte expressed the wish that no senior citizen be left behind in this era of  instant communication.  Sinead Gibney, Social Action Manager with Google, and Robin Webster, the indefatigable Chief Executive of Age Action were also present. Sinead  treated us to a reading of the poem ‘When I am old’, which can be seen on my blog page here . Pauline Power who operates the Getting Started Programme with Age Action and Anne Marie Walsh, the Event Manager, ensured that things flowed smoothly.

And so to the fabulous people whose terrific achievements were to be honoured at these awards. There were several categories as follows:

New to IT Award
A person over the age of 50 who is new to technology and has overcome challenges to become an IT user

Finalists were:

Austin was the winner of this category. His story is inspirational – having left school early he had some catching up to do in later life and this he did using technology. He has written a biography for his family.

Hobbies on the Net Award was next with 5 finalists

An older person who uses the Internet to pursue their passion or hobby or who uses IT for communication and social networking

I was particularly interested in this category as my ears pricked up when I heard the name Seamus Harkin from Creeslough. Creeslough is 7 mile s from my home village of Carrigart, Co Donegal.  On an all-too-rare visit back to my roots this summer, we were in search of the site of  a former 19th Century  Revenue Barracks in Creeslough. We were given Seamus Harkin’s phone number. Seamus Harkin is all things Creeslough and is a highly respected fountain of all sorts of historical knowledge in this particular area   He was most helpful and accommodating. We spoke several times by phone, but I had not met him until today, so that was a particularly pleasant meeting!  Thanks again Seamus for sharing your knowledge  and time with us.

Seamus is known as the Singing Undertaker at home and he fixes fiddles  as a hobby- how interesting is that!  Well done on this achievement Seamus agus  Tír Chonaill Abú!

IT Tutor(s) of the year 

An individual or group of any age who provides voluntary support to older learners. Anne won this award for her work in upskilling some 40 tutors. Anne is from Louth and were other nominees – Drogheda & District Support 4 Older People.  Small county with big hearts for older people!

Golden IT Award
An individual over the age of 80 who uses technology to enhance their lives

 

I love the Golden category – here are people of advanced years who have engaged with what can be a challenging medium – perhaps they came to it after losing a life partner –  and here they have found a new way of doing things, new ways to keep in touch, and have enhanced their lives.  Michael was the winner this year. He has long been an advocate of technology and encourages older people especially to use it . Michael has a blog  The Commonplace Book that is worth a visit for the quotes alone!  The judges for all of these categories had a challenging task to pick just one from each of these categories as they are heroes all!

Google Silver Surfer Award

An older person who embraces the Internet or technology with a sense of fun and adventure.

The winner of this over arching award was David,  who has become something of a techie since his retirement and has indulged his passions for music and digital photography, and entertains his grandchildren with his technical expertise!  With Apologies to Maura and Fred for the blurred photographs. Michael in this category was an inspiration to all of us – he suffered a stroke but then used his experience to help others and technology is a perfect medium for him. Well done to you all!

This is an appropriate place to give a huge shout out for Age Action Ireland   This is a n Irish Charity that promotes positive ageing and  better policies and services for older people. Age Action is regularly in the news headlines speaking out about issues that affect all of us who are older and more vulnerable. Ageing is an issue that hopefully will affect all of us of every age.  Do drop in to their webpage  here to see the wonderful work that they do, – work that enhances the lives of thousands of people and of society as a whole.

At a delicious and beautifully presented  lunch afterwards ,entertainment was provided by the excellent  and splendidly named barbershop quartet, the Sea Sharps .

It was a great event and hearty congratulations again to all the finalists  – winners all!

As  we left the premises,I couldn’t resist taking a shot of the decoration in the washrooms.

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The very colourful landing  with floor, walls and ceiling covered with faces – after all that is what Google is all about –  people of ALL ages!

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Further biographical info  on the winners can be found here

Thank you Google, and thank you Age Action!

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October 6, 2013 · 1:15 pm

50 years of Blowin in the Wind

In May 2011 I wrote a post in celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday and the impact he had on me as a teenager. The original text can be seen here.  50 years ago today Bob Dylan first performed Blowin in the Wind. Then aged 15, I clearly recall the first time I heard it and how it fed into the worldwide social happenings of the world and stirred the conscience of a generation. Most particularly it provided a vehicle for our rebellious spirits. The original post is below.

Bob Dylan and his Harmonica in 1963. Image Guardian.co.uk

Being a teen in Ireland in the early 1960s was a fascinating time. The Irish television service had just been introduced in 1961, although those of us who lived near the border with the six counties of Northern Ireland had enjoyed the BBC for  several years before – all in black and white of course!

One of the abiding memories from my teens was at age 15, racing into the living room and being stopped in my tracks by Martin Luther King on the television, delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, in Washington D.C. I was rooted to the spot. I also vividly recall the news reports of the war in Vietnam, the ‘FLOP-flop, FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop’ sound of Huey helicopters flying at terrifying angles and offloading their human cargoes of young men just a few years older than myself – either crouched and running,being carried on stretchers or in body bags. Never before had anything like these scenes been witnessed at a distance, by any generation. The impact on us was remarkable.

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image wikipedia.com

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image wikipedia.com

At the same time music was evolving, leaving behind the big band and orchestral sounds and becoming much more exciting and exhilarating. For a huge number of teenagers and young adults in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was phenomenal. With his guitar and harmonica and ‘drawl style’ of singing, he was unique. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times  they are a-Changin’ captured the mood exactly. They not only added an authenticity to the events, they challenged us not to remain complacent.

That Bob Dylan helped motivate an entire  generation to become socially aware, is probably an understatement.  Although he disliked the tag ‘protest song’, this is exactly what his compositions were to an emerging generation who were seeing things in their own homes that had only ever been read about in the past. His social commentaries were powerful motivators in making people question social inequality and the human cost of the Vietnam conflict. Not only that, his songs were like nothing we had heard before.  They had beautiful melodies, they were poetic, they had a social message. They were anthems of the time, most especially for the Civil Rights movement in the USA and for the anti-war movement, both of which, with the inspiration of Bob Dylan, became international movements.

For those of us emerging into adulthood in the sixties, Bob Dylan was a true icon. His poetry was inspiring; his message was beyond love-songs, beyond ‘ be-bop-a-doo-dah’ banality. His place in the politics, history and culture of the 1960s  enabled us to admonish those who perpetrated injustices in a way that had not been seen before and  not has been seen since.

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?….. How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they are forever banned?…

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?… How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take till he knows  that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Blowin still 50 years on.  Bob Dylan –  you changed me…you changed the world !

 

Filed under Life in the 1960sLiving in IrelandSocial Change

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Social Change, Social History Ireland

Exciting discovery of historic childhood texts

Today, and on every day in many locations across the world, drawers that have down the years become  convenient filing places for all sorts of everything that can be labelled ‘Important’, are being tidied. In one such drawer there has been an  exciting discovery of childhood texts  that are important social and historic documents.

There are two texts, each set upon double pull-out centre pages of  lined  20th (?) Century school copy books. The dimension of each manuscript is identical – 16 centimetres by 20 centimetres, in a double fold.  It is clear however that one of these manuscripts pre-dates the other by as much as 1 or 2  or possibly even 3 years. Both are on lined paper – designed to enable scholars to keep ‘straight’ when learning to write – a skill no longer  required as texts and  emails auto select to straight lines.  The writing implement appears to be of similar origin in both cases –  HB or 2 H lead pencil, popular in the late 20th Century, when ink pens were considered messy and those of a certain age were dissuaded from using the high-tech ‘biro’ which made for slovenly script.

Terrible warning
One of the documents, has interesting script on the reverse. Note the embellished lettering in ‘SANTA’  and the more austere style of the warnings, each bounded by lines.  A thorough search of all online resources – digitized newspapers and magazines and pension records  – did not reveal that an individual named ‘NOT SANTA’  suffered any great peril for having accessed private correspondence. It can be deduced therefore that ‘ONLY SANTA’ opened this document and that privacy was maintained. (It is also earnestly hoped that the warning was time-bound and has now expired) 
Text of request to the mythological figure, Santa

Text of request to the mythological figure, Santa

The main body of the text is headed by another highlighted form of SANTA, but with less embellishment than the former. Intriguingly, the words ‘Dear’ and ‘Santa’ are on separate lines. The request for  Crossbows and Catapults indicates a possible interest in conflict.( One wonders if this was an enduring interest.) Research shows that this was a game popular in the mid 1980’s. Item number 3 is of  some interest as it is not specified and the reader is left to guess the writer’s intention. Santa would of course have had ‘inside knowledge’ and would have been able to ‘fill the gap’

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The second letter.

The other letter is of a much more basic form –  no embellishment  of the word ‘SANTA ‘,  although it stands out clearly from the other script.  Once again the words ‘Dear’ and ‘Santa’ are on different lines. The list has grown and indicates an expanded list of requests. It is clear that the writer is of high status with access to a television and magazines, given the requests for no fewer than  6 items of Celtic ‘livery’. Subbeto ( Subbuteo?) normally came with a fabric pitch –  it is to be hoped that the request for a plastic pitch was met.We will never know.

One of these letters has a full name and address, regrettably no longer legible which is just as well as the ‘peril’ warning may still be in effect. These documents are a wonderful record of childhood as well as of social history. It is a matter of great regret that the year has not been recorded and it is to be hoped that this post will serve as a reminder to people who put things away in drawers that the date should be added to any such documents so that when they are rediscovered decades later, there are properly contextualized.

 

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Filed under My Oral History, Social Change, Social History Ireland