Recently, during a Dáil discussion, Labour’s spokesperson on agriculture deputy Willie Penrose highlighted the plight of the nation’s older farmers and the difficulties elderly people are facing every day in rural Ireland.

He then placed the blame for many of the issues firmly on the shoulders of Government.

Penrose said that more than half of Irish farmers were aged 65 or older and half of them were over 55. He also pointed to the risk factor involved for those farmers who worked alone.

“Working alone can lead to serious risks for farmers, with 14 farmers aged over 65 killed in farm accidents in 2017,” he said.

“At the same time, the number of people farming under the age of 35 has fallen from 8,200 to 7,100 and without generational renewal the long-term viability of many small Irish farms is at risk.”

‘Providing support’

During the recent discussions Penrose highlighted the need for supports and pointed to a number of funding measures aimed at farm safety under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) that go beyond the 2020 deadline and include incentives for young farmers.

He also said that the early retirement scheme – which operated until 2009 – should be reintroduced.

“This would not only provide older farmers with a more secure pension in their old age but would also promote increased pathways for younger farmers,” he added.

‘The plight of rural crime’

The Longford/Westmeath TD went on then to speak about rural crime and the negative impact this was having on farming communities across the country.

“Older farmers have also been the target of thugs who target isolated homes before speeding away,” he continued, before pointing out that in 2015 a closed-circuit television CCTV scheme was piloted in Dunmore, Co. Laois, in an effort to combat rural crime and to increase road safety.

“No progress has been made since despite a continuous surge in rural crime,” he added.

Meanwhile, Penrose pointed to the CCTV roll-out in rural areas which, he added, “has been continuously delayed due to the minister’s failure to clarify the issue relating to data management”.

This Government needs to cop on and take some responsibility and stop blaming local authorities.

He continued: “Labour would legislate to roll-out a national, streamlined programme of CCTV installations on motorways and other blackspots to deter rural crime and promote road safety.”

‘Rural vs. urban’

Penrose then pointed to old age and how its dependency “was rising at a faster rate in rural Ireland than in urban areas”.

He pointed out that this fact alone had increased the demand for healthcare services and the workload for rural GPs, whom he added “were themselves getting older”.

“It has become more and more difficult to attract younger doctors to country practices and as practitioners continue to retire large areas of the country are at risk of being left without an adequate GP service. Supports for GPs have been cut and that has to stop,” the Labour TD added.

This vicious cycle cannot continue; we must promote the continued development of primary care centres in rural towns.

Penrose said that centres with additional medical staff could provide enhanced services and take the pressure off individual GPs.

“Multiple doctors can operate in the same larger centre and share the workload of evening and weekend work.

With our ageing population there is a need for more old age specialised care including nurse-led services to help people manage their medication or monitor their conditions.

“Labour proposes emphasising old age care in primary care centres to meet this growing need,” he concluded.