At the launch of Ireland's first dedicated research centre on economic and social ageing, the Director of the new Irish Centre for Social Gerontology (ICSG) at NUI Galway, Professor Eamon O'Shea, today warned policy makers of the challenges facing rural communities as Ireland's demographics alter dramatically over the next number of years.
Professor O'Shea warned of huge demographic changes ahead as one in four Irish people would be over the age of 65 by 2050 compared to the current figure of around one in ten. However, population shifts into towns and cities means that in some local rural districts up to one in three of the population may already be aged 65 years or over, particularly in Western regions. Meeting the personal and social needs of these scattered and ageing rural communities is a real challenge for Irish society and the disenfranchisement being felt by Ireland's rural aged will become acute over the next number of years without adequate investment in services and infrastructure.
Professor O'Shea's comments were delivered at the official launch by An Tánaiste, Mary Harney TD, of the new €3 million Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at the JE Cairnes Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at NUI Galway. The Centre is the first of its type in Ireland which will examine the economic and social aspects of Ireland's ageing population across multiple disciplines including: social gerontology, economics, sociology, psychology, law, nursing and medicine.
Professor O'Shea welcomed the Government's support for the Centre as an important step which would facilitate comprehensive research in the area and identify problem areas for Ireland's elderly.
Speaking at the launch of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, Professor O'Shea said, "Ireland is on the cusp of major demographic changes and the ICSG will be a vital resource in assisting Ireland's policy makers to plan and make provision for Ireland's ageing population.
The formulation and implementation of measures to improve and enhance the participation of older people in economic, social and civic life has not been heretofore properly addressed in research in Ireland. Older people have too often been seen as drawing on public resources rather than as net contributors to society. ICSG seeks to both inform and influence attitudes to, and expectations of, older people as well as exploring innovative ways, through technology for example, to ensure that older people play a full part in society at all levels. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that we include older people in social and community initiatives. "
ICSG recently co- produced a research report funded by the National Council on Ageing and Older People on the quality of life for older people in long stay facilities and is currently completing a further report for the Council on the quality of life of older people living at home with a chronic illness or disability. ICSG is also working on a number of other research projects in the following areas: volunteerism, technology, dementia, and the ethnogerontology of Irish-born immigrant populations.
ICSG is funded through a combination of public and private funding, including important financial support from Atlantic Philanthropies, and will work closely with stakeholder groups including Age and Opportunity, Age Action Ireland, Senior Citizens Parliament and the Federation of Active Retirement Associations to promote a holistic and positive view of ageing in Ireland.
From September 2006, the ICSG will offer Ireland's first Diploma in Social Gerontology.