On more than one occasion, this column has said that older and elderly people should start looking out for themselves because successive governments haven’t done so adequately and it is likely they won’t do so unless they are forced to.

There is a lot of ‘grey power’ out there and, as far as I am concerned, older people should forget their traditional political ties and switch their votes to a party or individuals that don’t treat elderly people like a bothersome nuisance and an unwelcome drain on public expenditure. If older people flexed their political muscles and caused a few upsets in just one election, the big parties wouldn’t be long in coming around.

At present, Age Action Ireland has joined forces with eight other organisations working with older people to express their concerns about the proposed ‘Fair Deal’ legislation that will introduce a new form of charging for long-term residential care.  Many people believe it is not a ‘fair deal’ at all and is another attempt by the government to get out of what should be its obligation to look after people in their old age. Dr. Diarmuid O’Shea, a consultant geriatrician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, described the proposed legislation as akin to ‘legalising financial elder abuse’.

The legislation will replace the current public bed system and subvention system for new nursing home residents. All new residents will be dependency tested and means-tested if they opt for the scheme. Under the Fair Deal they will pay 80% of their disposable income towards the cost of their bed during their life and up to 15% of the value of their estate after their death. They will not pay more than the cost of the care they have received. In most cases, it will mean the sale of the family home and, if there is a spouse or other family member still residing in the house, the sale will be deferred until after their death.

Many people believe that the proposed scheme, like others before it, will be open to manipulation and will end up causing much distress, hardship and resentment. In should be noted that no other form of public health care currently involves a charge after death.

The nine groups believe that an attempt to rush in such legislation without proper consultation is not in the interest of older people.  They believe the government wants to introduce the new charges in January although the legislation has not yet been published. They suspect the government will attempt to rush the proposed ‘Fair Deal’ legislation through the Oireachtas before the Christmas break without allowing adequate time for consultation or proper consideration.

After the 2004 Supreme Court ruling on Nursing Home funding, legislation was introduced which established that older people, determined to be in need of nursing home care, were entitled to a publicly funded bed, less 80 per cent of their pension. That provision has neither been clearly transmitted nor facilitated for many older people.

The nine groups who oppose the ‘Fair Deal’ legislation are Active Retirement Ireland, Age Action Ireland, Irish Association of Social Workers, Irish Gerontological Society, Irish Nursing Homes Organisations, Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, Irish Society of Physicians in Geriatric Medicine, Older & Bolder and Older Women’s Network.

Never be late for a parish priest’s retirement party!

In recent weeks the whole country has been talking about Justine Delaney Wilson’s book in which she claims a government minister and an airline pilot admitted to being cocaine users. Well, this week, I am going to spill the beans about a certain government minister and all I will say about his identity is that he is NOT from Waterford or any of the South East counties.

A well-liked parish priest was being honoured at his retirement dinner after 25 years serving the community and the government minister was asked by the parish committee to make the official presentation and deliver a speech after the dinner. However, he was delayed in Dublin on business so, as the gathering awaited his arrival, the priest decided to say a few words of his own while they waited.

After thanking everybody for attending the function, and stressing that it had been a privilege to serve the needs of the parish, the priest continued.

“I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place because the very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it.

“He then told me he had also stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife and taken illegal drugs. I was appalled but, as the days went on, I learned that the vast majority of people were not like that at all and that I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people.”

Just as the priest sat down to a standing ovation of several minutes duration, the government minister arrived full of apologies for being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and, with that done, started out on his speech.

He couldn’t understand why the priest and the parish committee all turned white as sheets as he blurted out his first sentence. “I’ll never forget the first day our beloved parish priest arrived because I had the honour of being the first person to go to him for confession.”