1. Rural isolation
Related to issues such as crime and public transport – but it is clear that many older people are unhappy in their own homes, be it due to loneliness or loss of local services. There is still evidently considerable anger over the axing of the telephone allowance, and several candidates said that some older people are now afraid to answer their front door. The closure of Garda stations and threats to rural post offices compounds the sense of isolation further still.
2. Public transport
A lack of public transport around the city and servicing rural areas was a very important issue for many in the Older People’s Forum. Labour’s Marie Fitzpatrick said it had been discussed over and over again, and was still on the agenda – but the audience wanted to know why it didn’t seem to be any further along. Malcolm Noonan said that councillors had recently had a productive meeting with junior minister Alan Kelly on the subject. Martin Brett said that the tourist train had been used as public transport at one stage, but there wasn’t sufficient uptake.
3. The brewery site/housing
Although based in the heart of the city, the future of the St Francis Abbey brewery site is a source of immense interest and discussion throughout the whole county. Indeed, the first question to the politicians was asked by a man living in Castlecomer, who wanted to know if housing for the elderly could be built there. Others would like to see social, sheltered housing or a drop-in centre there.
4. Water charges
Although an issue that has largely been taken out of the hands of the local authorities, water charges are a huge sore point for a lot of elderly people, particularly those on state pension and fixed income. Several candidates reported that this was the main issue being brought up on the doorsteps, and the Government parties are bearing the brunt of the backlash.
5. Hurling on the Parade
It was clear from the group that there is a sizeable contingent of older people who are intimidated or feel they cannot use the public space. There is also anger that nothing substantive appears to have been done to address the issue, despite having been raised at a number of meetings. Both John Coonan and Sean O’ hArgain spoke out against it, and Nicky Brennan, a former GAA president, endorsed what was said.