New generations are standing on the shoulders of those who helped keep Ireland afloat during the bad times, building the launching pads for the Celtic Tiger, he said.
Mr Brennan told the annual congress of the Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament in Dublin that older people are cherished, recognised and rewarded for their contribution to society.
But he warned that with almost half of the country’s workforce - more than 900,000 people - not having a private pension plan and facing a retirement dependent on the State, plans had to be made for the future.
“All around the world, governments and societies are grappling with the challenges of a lopsided population structure in which older people far outnumber younger workers,” he said.
“Ireland’s response to the challenges and opportunities posed by this rapid social, economic and demographic change will influence the future shape of our society for decades to come.”
By 2056, the number of people aged over 65 will more than treble to 1,500,000. The current four workers contributing to the support of every pensioner will fall to 2.7 in 2026 and to less than 1.5 workers per pensioner in 50 years’ time.
“We must decide what sort of retirement we want for ourselves and our children and what sacrifices we as a society are prepared to make to secure that future,” said Mr Brennan.
“Good pension provision costs, whether it is done through a system of private provision and personal contributions or through the State by way of taxes and social insurance contributions.”
Formed in 1994, the Irish Senior Citizens’ Parliament boasts almost 350 affiliated organisations and a 95,000-strong membership.
Members were addressed on the challenges, opportunities and needs of older people in 21st-century Ireland in areas such as pensions, retirement, technology and recognition.
Mr Brennan said those who want to retire at 65 or 66 must do so in the security of a solid and consistent income from the State, while others should be given the flexibility and choice to work longer if they wanted.
“The prevention of poverty must, and will, always be fundamental in underpinning future reforms, improvements in pensions and incomes, and the creating of opportunities.
“It is about ensuring that all of our older people have security, dignity and recognition in retirement and later years.”