Growing old in Ireland

Is Ireland A Great Place To Grow Old In?

Growing old in Ireland is a topic that makes the headlines almost daily. But we wanted to ask the question – is Ireland the best country to grow old in? We would love your feedback on this guest blog post from Peter Kavanagh, Advocacy and Communications Executive with Active Retirement Ireland.

Bluebird Care held a series of nationwide events to ask this question called An Engagement With Bluebird Care and the overwhelming response by older people and advocacy groups was that Ireland would be a great place if a number of key considerations were prioritised by Government.

What makes a country a great place to grow old?

There are a number of factors that contribute towards a country being a great place to grow old in.

The Global AgeWatch Index ranks 96 countries according to well-being in four key areas: income security, health status, opportunities for education or employment, and social connectedness.

Ireland’s position on that index may surprise you. We have slipped from 12th in 2013 to 15th last year, falling further behind the leading country, Switzerland. Countries performing best in the index have policies that support older people’s wellbeing and autonomy. Switzerland and the Nordic countries, for example, all have universal pensions, flexible employment opportunities, lifelong learning and effective healthcare.

Income security

In Ireland, our government is quick to remind us that they have protected the state pension. However, rising costs coupled with reductions in secondary income supports, such as telephone and fuel allowances and the introduction of a number of ‘stealth’ charges for property, tax and water, have hit older people hard.

Cuts to health budgets have disproportionately affected older people. In contrast to universal citizens’ pensions, Ireland’s pension system is biased in favour of people with uninterrupted careers. This disproportionately affects women, who are more likely to leave paid employment to care for children or sick relatives. In fact, the Gender Pension Gap stands at 35%.

The Irish Contributory State Pension, at its full rate of €233.30 per week, is a far higher sum than most other countries pay their older citizens. When making a straightforward comparison with, for example, Britain, the Irish pensioner appears to be coming out almost €100 per week better off.

When weighting for average earnings, cost of living and benefits in kind are taken into account, however, the Irish pensioner is less able to cope with emergencies and unexpected expenditure.

Health Status

Health status is a measure based on the three key areas of life expectancy at 60, healthy life expectancy at 60, and self-reported psychological wellbeing. Ireland’s averages in both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are solid if unspectacular, placing us in 20th place worldwide, far behind Japan. Where we really fall down, though, as a nation, is how we care for our oldest citizens.

The Irish model of care is fundamentally unchanged since the Poor Laws of 1838. Our entire system is geared toward residential long-term care, something only 4% of over 65s require.

The poorly-named Fair Deal is funded at the expense of home care packages and home help hours, meaning many older people who could age well at home are denied the opportunity to remain part of their communities.

Opportunities for education or employment

Ireland does not have a mandatory retirement age, so in theory older people can stay in work for as long as they would like.

In practice, however, employment contracts tend to finish at age 65 in the private sector, despite the State Pension kicking in only at 66. There is also no option but to take the State Pension at 66 years of age, adding potential taxation issues to continued employment.

Many people retire either because they are forced to by their employer, or because the increased tax burden makes carrying on in work an unattractive prospect.

Countries that score highly on the AgeWatch Index have more flexible approaches to retirement, such as winding down to part-time work or retraining in older age to take on less demanding roles. Ireland’s hard retirement age and lack of flexibility means retirement is forced on many people who are not prepared, and this can be quite stressful.

Educational opportunities for older people were among the first to be cut in the recession Ireland entered in 2008. Local Education and Training Boards were instructed to focus on youth unemployment and the long-term unemployed, and to make a particular effort to retrain those who were working in Ireland’s swollen construction industry before the global financial crash.

While all of these areas are vital to Ireland’s economic recovery, tighter public purses tend to neglect education’s valuable role in improving quality of life. Education for education’s sake, rather than just as a means to getting a job, is also vitally important.

Where once Active Retirement groups could access art classes, computer classes and foreign language lessons; now younger men and women fill classrooms hoping to learn practical skills. The delicate balance that treasured lifelong learning is broken.

Social Connectedness

This is measured by access to public transport, physical safety, social connections and civic freedom.

Ireland scores very highly on civic freedom and social connections. Older people are valued within their communities for the volunteer work they do. In most Irish towns and villages, older people are the glue that holds together the fabric of society. Just look at your local Tidy Towns, GAA Club, Tennis Club, Residents’ Association, or any other community group.

Older people volunteer. It’s what we tend to do in retirement. Older people are also more civically engaged than other age cohorts. They vote in greater numbers and are quite passionate about the issues that affect them, their families and their communities.

Despite communities relying on older people for so much, it is becoming more difficult for these wonderful people to remain at home as they age. While Ireland is a world leader in giving free travel to over-66s, a lack of rural transport links mean that many older people outside of major towns and cities are forced to maintain a car.

With increasing insurance premiums, this is a major cost for those still in employment, let alone the retired.

Physical safety is also a major issue for older people in rural areas. While the number of reported crimes has not risen, a lack of a visible Garda presence and the closure of smaller stations have left many older people feeling unsafe in their own homes. When crime does strike close to home, it can rock entire communities of older people, left feeling abandoned as younger relatives have had to migrate to cities here and abroad in search of work.

Cause for optimism?

All that said, the situation in Ireland is not dire. Irish older people are far from the most poorly treated in the world, and those who are socially active are far happier and healthier than those who are not. What the country needs is to make sure that we enable older people to age in place, and remain as part of their communities as they grow older.

Organisations like Active Retirement Ireland and companies like Bluebird Care strive to reach the stage where we can truly say that Ireland is a great place for all its citizens, and a great place to grow older in.

WATCH: Active Retirement Ireland Trade & Tourism Show Highlights

We were delighted to partner with Active Retirement Ireland  on their 2015 Trade and Tourism Show which took place on May 26th in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Galway. This event attracts 2,500 people in just one day and provides a great opportunity for ARI members to network, enjoy hands-on workshops and see what deals companies are offering.

We had our own videographer there to capture the atmosphere and below you will get to see for yourself what all the excitement is about. Well done to everyone at ARI for organising yet another fantastic event.

Thanks to Cormac, our videographer to catching a few words with the fabulous Ann Doyle too!

Cormac Staunton of Staunton Media captures Anne Doyle at the 2015 Active Retirement Ireland Trade and Tourism Show.

Cormac Staunton of Staunton Media captures Anne Doyle at the 2015 Active Retirement Ireland Trade and Tourism Show.


Gary Cooks Chicken Curry

Celebrity Chef Gary O’Hanlon has created a series of videos for us cooking his favourite recipes from our cookbook Food For the Soul.

Here he cooks Chicken Curry. Gary did an event at Electric Picnic where Sunil Guhai was MCing. He’s Executive Chef of the Jaipur Restaurant Group and a great Chef according to Gary. He did a chicken curry at the event but never as Gary had seen. He roasted the spices, broke them up in the morel and pestle, fried them a bit, added the sauce ingredients and then put in the chicken. This isn’t the usual method Gary would use but Sunil is a master and has created a wonderful dish that Gary has cooked here.

Chef Gary O'Hanlon with Active Retirement Ireland President Mai Quaid

TV’s ‘The Restaurant’ Chef Gary to Cook Up A Storm in Limerick

FREE Food for the Soul Cookery Demo in the Strand Hotel, Thursday 30th October @ 7:30pm


Bluebird Care and Celebrity Chef Gary O’Hanlon from TV3’s Late Lunch Live and The Restaurant takes their nationwide series of Food for the Soul cookery demonstrations to Limerick. Food for the Soul is a collection of Gary’s favourite home-cooked recipes. The cookbook is published by homecare company Bluebird Care which has its head office in Limerick and 23 others nationwide. The cookbook will raise money for Active Retirement Ireland, which has 24,500 members across Ireland.

The free cookery demonstration takes place in the Strand Hotel on Thursday 30th October at 7.30pm. To register your free place email or call 061 481 208 or click here to register online.

Food for the Soul could be described as ‘food for the soul, stories from the heart’ as Gary has a personal back-story for each recipe and putting his unique stamp on the book. Speaking this week Gary says, “We have four sections in the cookbook – Starters, Snack, Mains and Desserts. We also have a ‘How-to-Guide’ for the more difficult recipes. I am really excited to partner with Bluebird Care on this project.

“They are a company that spends lots of time, energy and investment on projects to benefit other people and other organisations. I am pleased that my very first cookbook is one that is going to raise money for Active Retirement Associations across Ireland.” Not only has Bluebird Care produced this cookbook for sale nationwide they have also commissioned a series of complementary online videos showing Gary cook each dish which are available to view on their website.”

General Manager of Bluebird Care in Limerick, Daragh McGlynn says, “We have long-held the view that good home cooking is very important to our customers who live in their own homes. We are in the homes of dozens of people every week right across Limerick and we understand the importance of a healthy and balanced diet. We asked Gary to write the cookbook for us and to devise recipes that had home-cooking at the heart of them. There are dishes for everyone – the beginner, intermediate or advanced home-cook.”

The cookbooks are available for sale at €10 online – click here.