Citizens’ Dialogue: The YMIP Take

Good attendance from Kildare at citizens’ event in Dublin

Ciara Galvin

Kildare was well-represented at the ‘Citizens’ Dialogue’ event hosted by RTÉ’s Pat Kenny in Dublin last Thursday the 10th of January.

The Citizens’ Dialogue was one of the first major events of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Ireland will hold until the end of June.  At least four local citizens – Pat Halley, Lorna Gold, Fiona O’Loughlin and Declan Meenagh – were among the 200 people from all over Ireland who attended to discuss citizens’ rights, the economy, and the future of the EU.

Participants had the chance to raise their concerns after the official launch of the European Year of Citizens, during which An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore took questions from the floor alongside President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for ordinary people in Ireland to raise their concerns with very powerful people you wouldn’t meet every day,” said Maynooth resident Lorna Gold, as the event kicked off in Dublin City Hall.

Fiona O’Loughlin, a county councillor from Rathangan, attended mainly “just to listen and see the type of engagement. I’m very interested in the EU but also very pro-active in the area of citizenship”.

Recent NUI Maynooth graduate Declan Meenagh was also in the crowd.  “I think the European Union needs to look at how it engages with citizens and improve it,” he said.  Mr Meenagh felt the event was good overall.  “If the contributions from the meeting were listened to and taken on board by the EU, then it was a worthwhile event”.

Meanwhile Maynooth resident Pat Halley, an older citizen in his early sixties who cannot afford to retire, raised his concerns about the link between increased retirement age and youth unemployment.

Pat Halley in the audience at the Citizens' Dialogue
Pat Halley in the audience at the Citizens’ Dialogue

 

“A lot of older workers across Europe who are lucky enough to have jobs will have to work into their later years,” Mr Halley told Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton and Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding during the hour-long open forum.  “And in a sense we’re blocking jobs for young people”.

When asked afterwards if he felt the Minister and Commissioner listened to his question he said, “at least you are in the same room as them and they are hearing what you are saying”.

“Whether they are really listening to you, you give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are”.

Mr Halley expressed concern that the people in the room, though a good mix of age and gender, were not a representative cross-section of Irish citizens. “We’re the ones who got an invite to this, or were informed about it and we had to make a kind of a bid as to why we should be here”.

“The majority of the people here are the haves, and the have-nots are still outside somewhere, not even aware of what’s going on”.

Commissioner Reding will lead Citizens’ Dialogues across Europe throughout 2013, as part of the European Commission’s effort to communicate better with citizens.   Numerous other events will also be held in Ireland as part of the Irish Presidency, which interested citizens can find either by visiting the official website eu2013.ie, or EM Ireland’s online Calendar of Upcoming Events.

 

20IE

Eoin Kelleher

Cartoon entitled "20IE" by Eoin Kelleher

“20IE” by Eoin Kelleher

 

No to Ageism

Tarisai May Chidawanyika

In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee wrote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

On 10 January 2013, the Launch of the European Year of Citizens 2013 and a Citizens’ Dialogue were held in the majestic Dublin City Hall. The purpose of these events was to allow the EU’s key decision makers to walk around in the shoes of Irish citizens and see life from the perspective of the citizens of this small nation. The events brought together people of all ages, demographics and backgrounds in Ireland in order for everyone to be equally represented and have their voices heard.

Many issues of paramount importance were raised during the Launch of the European Year of Citizens as well as the Citizens’ Dialogue. An Taoiseach Mr Enda Kenny said, “We want to encourage a debate about what it means to be a citizen of the European Union. Above all, we want to listen to what our citizens are saying to us about this.”

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, An Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise Ó Muirí, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton at the launch of the European Year of Citizens

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, An Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise Ó Muirí, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton at the launch of the European Year of Citizens

It was however unfortunate that not every citizen who attended the Citizens’ Dialogue was able to “join the debate” because of the limited time available. One such citizen was a sixty-six year old lady I had the opportunity to interview. She had arrived two hours early in order to get the best possible seat and have a chance to poise her question. To her disappointment as well as mine, this did not happen. While the issue she tried to raise might be seen as minor to some, it is hugely important. Therefore we need to climb into her shoes and walk around in them.

Wearing a “No to Ageism” badge, she told me she felt very strongly that the elderly are ignored in society, and that this is visible in the way in which news channels focus on international issues, business issues and crime, but they never pan on the most vulnerable in society – the elderly.

Expressing the obvious, that life is transient, she was not only speaking for her own generation but also for the younger generation. We are so absorbed by our present that we never consider the future or people who are currently living in what will be our future. Who will help us when we are no longer young, fit and? If we cannot speak out for the elderly who need us the most now, who will speak out for us when the tables have turned and we become the elderly? The younger generation whose voices we will depend on will be just as absorbed in their present as we are now.

My question is, ‘what will the EU do to support this marginalised group of society?’ Will the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU highlight this problem and provide a feasible solution to it? The elderly need the respect and friendship they were given in their youth and a feeling of independence even after retirement. Is sufficient and adequate healthcare being provided at the age that it is needed most? The EU needs to address this urgent issue. The elderly are the people who once played a major role in building their respective countries when they had jobs and dreams, so should we abandon them now because we have taken their place? To do so is to essentially put an expiration date on them and similarly an expiration date will be put on us.

I am fully aware that the EU has other problems, such as reducing youth unemployment, and stabilising the economy. However, if an organisation as big as the EU does not speak on the behalf of the minorities in society, who will? The politicians won’t do it, they certainly haven’t so far. New legislation could be passed but will this be done in a reasonable timeframe? Our elderly citizens are very much alive, they simply need more recognition.

Over the next six months ageism is an issue that has to be broached by the Irish Presidency. If the Presidency is supposed to benefit Ireland as the Taoiseach claimed at the launch on Thursday, it must not only strive to resuscitate the economy but work towards removing ageism as well. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done” and today we say the same thing to our EU leaders. It starts now with the Irish Presidency!

 

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