Points of View: Duane Farrell - The End of the Beginning?
So, the news is in - OFMdFM have announced that they will bring forward legislation which will protect people from discrimination on the grounds of age.
I am minded to keep the celebratory drinks on ice for the moment. What we’ve witnessed, while a welcome announcement, really just marks the end of the beginning on a hugely important process. When passed, the legislation will say for the first time that you cannot unjustifiably discriminate against a person on the grounds of age.
Age NI and our legacy organisations, Age Concern Northern Ireland and Help the Aged in Northern Ireland have been campaigning on this long enough to remember when we hoped the much vaunted Single Equality Bill would deliver these protections back when David Trimble and Seamus Mallon held office in OFMdFM.
Today’s announcement is a win for the hard work and tenacity of older people across the age sector who have been working hard to ensure that OFMdFM delivered their promise that people would be protected in this way. Older people told us that they felt the protections in this bill should cover people from the cradle to the grave, and while this has not been achieved, the protection will extend to people 16 years old and over. It lays the foundations for future work on extending this coverage even further.
Now the really hard work begins. By May 2016, the Ministerial team at OFMdFM have re-committed to passing this legislation in the Assembly. That’s going to require a number of things. Firstly, Age NI believes that the starting point for this legislation must be that there are no exceptions for health and social care services in Northern Ireland.
At an Age NI event in 2013 we heard from colleagues in England that they uncovered discrimination, both direct and indirect, in the provision of health and social care. We have no reason to believe that a similar study in Northern Ireland would uncover anything different. If we are to pass this legislation in such a tight timeline, the starting point has to be no exceptions in this area. What is also needed is political leadership that has a singular focus on delivering this legislation over the next twelve months. The prize of protecting and fulfilling the rights, dignity and worth of individuals by prohibiting unjustified age discrimination is too important. If you’re wondering why that is, listen to Pat Kelso who contacted us last year to tell us about the impact that age discrimination had on her life.
So, today’s announcement is welcome, but we’ve welcomed this announcement before. Age NI will commit itself to ensuring that the protections for older people in this legislation are strong and meaningful. The hard work continues. In that regard, I am reminded of the words of one Winston Churchill, who said:
‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’