Margaret McMonagle tries hard to fight back the tears.
Margaret, a prominent member of a Waterside community group called ‘The Recycled Teenagers’ recalls a conversation she had with a 92 year-old woman living in a Western Health and Social Care Trust’s residential home.
“I was almost crying when I heard what the woman had to say. Her home is one of the residential homes that is facing closure - she’s absolutely devestated.
“The woman believes the reason the authorities are treating older people the way they have been is because they see them as ‘old, frail and they’ll probably die soon enough anyway’.
“When she said this to me I was really upset. When you are old you shouldn’t have to endure this type of treatment.
“Aneurin Bevan, who founded the NHS once said, a society is defined by how they treat their older people, if that’s the case then we are not doing a good job.”
‘The Recycled Teenagers’ were invited to Thursday’s event by MEP Martina Anderson and approximately 60 older men and women from the local area attended.
Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Claire Keatinge, addressed the older people and told them she would hold all of the local authorities accountable on their behalf.
“Older people are a great asset to our society - making a positive contribution to all aspects of life in our communities,” said the Commissioner.
She continued: “Within families, faith communities, community organisations and politics, ours is a better society because more of us are living longer and healthier lives.
“Older people want and have the right to expect to be respected, recognised for their contribution, treated fairly, valued, understood and involved in decisions about their lives.
“They must also be able to be certain that if they are frail, vulnerable, ill or otherwise in need of care or support that they will receive the services and support they need.
“I enjoyed hearing from the Recycled Teenagers about what matters to them, what is good about their experience of ageing and what challenges they experience.
“The real lives and experiences of older people are what matter most to me as I fulfill my role as Commissioner for Older People safeguarding and promoting the rights of older people across Northern Ireland.”
‘The Recycled Teenagers’ existed informally in the area for more than 30 years but it was only last year that they became a bonafide community group meeting twice a week in Hillcrest House.
Kathleen Tracey, the group’s chairperson said everyone was delighted to attend the event as it gave them a chance to make their voice heard.
“We are delighted that the Commissioner for Older People is coming to meet with us and other older people in the city.
“This is a great opportunity for us to discuss many issues impacting on the lives of older people in Derry,” she said.
Kathleen first joined the local community group in the 1980s but said it’s only been in the last few years that they have been able to raise issues affecting older people in Derry.
“Many of the older people in this room helped to build Derry into the city it is today - all we are asking for is to be treated with respect.
“It’s through groups like the ‘Recycled Teenagers’ that we are able to get our points across and talk about the issues that are impacting upon our lives,” said Kathleen.
Sinn Fein MEP, Martina Anderson, who helped to organise the event along with Hillcrest House manager, Karen Mullen, said when it comes to taking decisions on the future of residential homes for older people all concerned parties must be included in discussions from as early as possible.
“We must do everything possible to ensure that individuals and organisations representative of older people are involved to the maximum extent in the decision-making process.
“We must recognise older people for the asset that they are to our society and not treat them as if they are a burden.
“It is also fantastic that in the North we have our own Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge and an Older People’s Parliament. It is something to be proud of that we can hold ourselves up as a case of best practice in recognising older peoples’ place as equal participants in society,” said Ms. Anderson.
Margaret McMonagle knows there is still a lot of work to be done but believes with ‘The Recycled Teenagers’ can help to ensure the interests of older people living in Derry can be at the top of the political agenda.
“The sooner society realises just how much older people still have to offer the better - if it wasn’t for our generation and older generations this city wouldn’t be the place it is today.
“The Recycled Teenagers are determined to do all they can to protect the rights of older people and if anyone reading this article wants to join our group all they have to do is contact us at Hillcrest House,” she said.
‘The Recycled Teenagers’ meet every Thursday at Hillcrest House in Jasmine Court from 1pm-4pm. For more information telephone the staff at Hillcrest House on 028 7134 7515.