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Gregory Campbell thinks interviewers should steer clear of the elderly... is he right?

By Amanda Ferguson and Joanne Sweeney

Published 09/06/2015

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell

A DUP MP has sparked a furious backlash after he suggested that older people shouldn't be interviewed on the airwaves.

Gregory Campbell caused outrage after he suggested caution should be taken when interviewing people in their 70s and older.

The 62-year-old MP was on the Nolan Show yesterday, discussing 75-year-old Sir James Galway's disparaging remarks about the former First Minister, Ian Paisley, last week.

The famous flautist from Belfast suggested Mr Paisley was indirectly "responsible" for Troubles murders and was "not a man of God".

Mr Campbell then said perhaps older people shouldn't be interviewed at all. He also said that he'd told his own family not to let interviewers near him when he hit 70. His comments immediately sparked an outcry.

He said: "I think there are some journalists about who seem to revel in interviewing people when they are in their reasonable old age and they seem to think they have got some sort of scoop. Eamonn Mallie is not the only one."

Journalist and broadcaster Mr Mallie (64) interviewed Ian Paisley for a TV documentary in which the former DUP leader, who died in 2014 aged 88, launched a scathing attack on senior members of his party for pushing him aside. Mr Mallie said he hoped when Mr Campbell "is in that zone of 70-plus that we will feel he is sufficiently relevant that we will want to speak with him".

"The great advantage of speaking to people in their 70s and later is they are people who have accumulated a life of experience and quite often have nothing to lose, so speak with an integrity which is absent quite a lot of time at other stages in their lives because of the sphere in which they operate," he said.

"I think it is very mischievous to imply people in their 70s or 80s are confused or unrepresentative," he added.

Mr Mallie said the implication that Mr Paisley wasn't in charge of his faculties for their TV interview was incorrect. "The implication James Galway isn't very clear in his head is wrong," he added.

"Stephen Nolan was perfectly correct to conduct the interview with James Galway in the manner he did. We live in a democracy so I hope when Gregory is in his 70s, and that couldn't be too far away, he will have something worthwhile to say."

Northern Ireland's Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge, said: "All too often the views, voices and opinions of older people in Northern Ireland are unfairly represented. It is incumbent upon public figures to take a leadership role in reframing the debate about the real value of our ageing society."

We asked some well-known older people what they thought

Maud Kells, 76

Missionary and survivor of gun attack

I have been thrown into the limelight because of the shooting incident in the Congo in January.

I have been so, so busy with lots of invitations to church meetings, rotary clubs and I am going along to the British Legion to share a bit about my work.

It is always very encouraging. Keeping oneself active does keep one young.

I like to be kept active, physically, mentally and spiritually.

I live in a bungalow with gardens and I do most of that myself to keep myself fit.

I read the Bible every day and pray every day and keep myself fit spiritually.

You have to keep yourself sharp when speaking at meetings. I am using the internet, email and Powerpoint, so I have to keep up to date with IT work.

Everyone is very respectful of me and I don't face any discrimination because of my age.

Gloria Hunniford, 75

Broadcaster and presenter

If anything, I think my opinion is more valid now as I have more experience.

I don't always believe that it is the youth of today that have all the bright ideas and have all the gems of things to say.

There may well be some whippersnapper who thinks, 'What does he or she know now that they are in their 70s?' and it would be very hard to beat that attitude. But, as I'm still working as hard as ever, if not harder, of course I think that my viewpoint counts, otherwise I still wouldn't be employed.

I can only speak as I find and, as I work for Loose Women, my viewpoint is appreciated and valid. As for Rip Off Britain, I don't think it could be done by three 21-year-olds. Because we are of an age, people respect that and our credibility. We have all worked hard for that credibility, despite our age.

Harry Gregg, 85

Ex-Manchester United keeper

Around 12 years ago I was a big, fit fella running the beach but, unfortunately, I had to go into hospital and I found out I had bowel and prostate cancer, both of which I got over.

I officially retired from coaching Coleraine, where I started as a boy, when I was around 75. I was quietly doing coaching for pleasure, boring the young men with my stories! I have had two strokes but I am still hanging about and do work with various groups.

Baroness May Blood, 77

Integrated education activist

I am in my late 70s but I am still as active as I ever was.

I am in London three days a week and work the other three days at home.

I am looking to see if we can get Northern Ireland to be at peace with itself.

My passion is, of course, integrated education which I am happy to be involved with as I think that is one of the ways forward.

Houston McKelvey, 72

Ex-Dean of St Anne's cathedral

I was a cleric for 40 years and now I write a daily church blog and catch up on the news on my iPad.

I don't think age has anything to do with it when it comes to giving an opinion. If you are articulating an opinion which is valid and which can be sustained by evidence, that would be the criteria I would employ. I have tremendous admiration for Archbishop Desmond Tutu ... I have not seen any diminution in the relevance of his comments.

Lord Robin Eames, 78 

Former Church of Ireland Primate

I have found that as I have got older, when people have tended to ask me for an opinion or advice, it is couched as being based on my experience and for my experience.

So, for me, as long as I express as honest an opinion as I can, then I see no reason why it should not be valid. However, I do believe in not standing on the shoulders of my successors as I hope that my judgment would be the best that I could offer and reflect the views of the Church.

Francis Hughes, 73

Chair of Age Sector Platform

It's vitally important to recognise the wealth of knowledge and experience that older people have gained over the years.

In my view, our voices must be respected and valued. "Speaking from Experience" is Age Sector Platform's mantra and helps to summarise what we as a charity are about - older people speaking on our own behalf.

Bernie Mulholland, 70

Neo-natal unit night nurse

I work caring for ill premature babies three to four nights a week, and I did five shifts last week. I work depending on what need there is and I still enjoy it and believe I am a valued member of the team. I was recently honoured by the Royal College of Nursing for having 50 years of nursing in Northern Ireland.

I don't see why, as long as someone is able to work, they wouldn't be able to give their opinion, or why their view would not be as valid as anyone else's.

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