Serious concern about the treatment of the elderly was also voiced by the Equality Authority and the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, yesterday at a conference on the rights and entitlements of older people organised by Age Action Ireland.
The president of the IHRC, Maurice Manning, said the Commission was aware since its establishment in 2001 that older people were one of the most vulnerable sectors of society in terms of human rights.
Dr Manning said one of the IHRC’s first pieces of research had highlighted some of the problems which subsequently received further exposure in programmes like the Prime Time documentary on the Leas Cross nursing home.
He described the study by human rights expert, Ita Mangan, as a “fine and frightening piece of work.”
Dr Manning expressed regret that the reaction by the Department of Health to the IHRC’s concerns about conditions in nursing homes was “perfunctory and dismissive.”
He also told delegates at the conference in Croke Park, Dublin that the IHRC was disappointed with the lack of media interest when the Commission tried to raise concerns on the issue.
Meanwhile, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said there were still a number of issues outstanding in relation to the nursing home charges.
Ms O’Reilly also criticised the way some older people were treated by people working for Government bodies and State agencies.
The Ombudsman said she was baffled whenever she came across examples of “thoughtless, senseless bureaucracy” and the failure of some public servants to recognise that people weren’t as young as they used to be.
The chief executive of the Equality Authority, Niall Crowley, emphasised how elderly people could face discrimination merely because of their age.
Complaints about age discrimination now accounted for almost a quarter of all cases coming before the Equality Authority, said Mr Crowley.
Robin Webster, chief executive of Age Action Ireland, called on the Government to introduce legislation to secure the rights of all older people to have access to services which allowed them to live at home for as long as they wished.
Meanwhile, new EU figures released to mark the UN International Day of Older Persons on Sunday show that Ireland has the youngest population in Europe, with just 11% of citizens over the age of 65 compared to the EU average of 17%.
However, the Republic like the rest of the EU is expected to see a high increase in the percentage of elderly people in its population over the next few decades due to improved healthcare services and declining birth rates.
EU statistics also reveal that 15.3% of Irish people over the official retirement age of 65 are still in employment — the fourth highest rate in Europe.