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Grey power and lively debates at first pensioners' parliament

By Amanda Poole

Grey Power was on show as hundreds of older people gathered for the first Northern Ireland Pensioners' Parliament yesterday.

The senior citizens showed no sign of age as they actively debated and voted on the sometimes life-and-death issues that affect them.

Junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson opened proceedings at the two-day event in Belfast, where delegates met to vote on issues raised during events held earlier this year.

Chief executive of the Age Sector Platform and relative youngster Eddie Lynch (35) said he was pleased with the turnout and lively discussion so far.

"We are an ageing population," he said. "One of our members' favourite slogans is, 'our today is your tomorrow'.

"The issues we are campaigning for now are going to be issues for us all.

"They have to listen to what people are saying on the ground.

"Keeping warm in winter is a serious issue. I know it's the middle of June. but people are concerned.

"The winter fuel payment has been cut from £250 to £200 and from £400 to £300 for over 80s.

"People are genuinely worried about keeping warm which is a basic need.

"We have been quite surprised that fear of crime is a big issue for people in every county.

"We have to send the message out that crimes against older people are rare, so people feel secure in their own homes, while taking precautions."

Hugh Rafferty (73), a retired coach builder from Dunmurry, also attended the parliament.

He said: "The pension is too low. Older people are dying from hypothermia and malnutrition. People years ago got final year salary, but they are being phased out.

"We are fighting for a good state pension of £178 or higher."

Irene Glass (64) from Larne is a retired district nurse, facilitator for Age NI, and part of the Silver Circle group that meets every week to share thoughts, experiences and concerns.

She said: "Older people are interested in what's going on, as this conference shows.

"We talk about worries including fuel and food prices. Some people can't afford certain foods.

"Loneliness can be an issue for people in rural areas and difficulties with limited transport and feeling isolated."

Ann Campbell (68), a retired manager from Lisburn, said: "There is also lot of discrimination in the heath service.

"The best thing we have now is the legislation to have an independent commissioner for older people.

"This won't be somebody who is in the pocket of the Government. It's someone independent who will fight for us. That will make a big difference."

Following panel discussions and questions from the floor, pensioners used hand-held electronic keypads to vote on motions raised regarding energy prices, food, and fear of crime.

The results of all the votes will then be included in a report, which will be supplied to all MPs, MLAs and district councils.

Health and social care, pensions and benefits, and discrimination are on the agenda on the final day of the parliament today.

Top concerns

1. Keeping warm in winter

2. Not enough money

3. Fear of crime

4. Food prices

5. Loneliness and boredom

Belfast Telegraph


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