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Patricia Conboy (1984)

Patricia Conboy

Patricia Conboy

Some of my most vivid Kimmage memories are of student conversations and debates about hot topics. Whether it was about equality between women and men or the existence of “a Third World” in Ireland, for example, we explored and argued passionately, often from opposing perspectives. Our discussions were of course influenced by our beliefs and values as well as by our knowledge and reading of research findings on the issues under the microscope. From those exchanges, I learned about the significance of process: how an educational experience is structured and facilitated. I began to understand the factors that enable participation and fruitful discussion of difficult issues in a diverse group; and also the factors that block open discussion and learning, and lead participants into more entrenched positions. Above all, there was the central requirement of respect for individuals and their viewpoints, no matter how divergent, in any meaningful attempt to achieve new understandings on contentious issues.

All these years later, I continue to value this strand of my Kimmage experience highly. It taught me my first lessons about the process of learning within a group, about the range of influences shaping people’s beliefs and values, and the necessity of working respectfully with people in terms of their beliefs and values, whether I shared those views or not. In turn, these are each fundamental aspects of any work for progressive change. Personally and professionally, I’ve been trying to build on those early insights ever since, and meeting both success and failure along the way.

Since 2001, my work has focused specifically on policy on ageing and older people. Depending on the role, I’ve been involved in age policy analysis, research and evaluation, writing, lobbying and advocacy. Most recently, I was privileged to lead Older & Bolder, an alliance of 8 NGOs collaborating and campaigning for the rights of older people in Ireland. It was an exciting and rewarding job.

Older people were at the heart of Older & Bolder’s work. The role of the alliance, as we saw it, was to enable older people’s voices in all their diversity to be heard in the public arena; and to facilitate the inclusion of older people’s perspectives and preferences in policy debates and decision-making. With colleagues, I planned national consultations with older people to inform Older & Bolder’s own public positions on issues such as planning for an ageing population, social protection, health and social care. When I did so, I called once again on a repertoire of concepts and processes (i.e. capacity-building, participation, empowerment) which I had originally explored as a student on the Development Studies course in Kimmage Manor.

With the active involvement of a grassroots network of older people’s groups in all parts of Ireland, Older & Bolder campaigned successfully between 2008 and 2013 for the fulfillment of a Government promise to publish the National Positive Ageing Strategy; the defence of older people’s rights to the State Pension and other social supports; and for access to adequate health care, notably the home and community care which is essential to older people if they are to grow old in their own homes as the majority wish to do.

In June 2013, Older & Bolder closed when philanthropic funding ended. The baton on the age agenda – the promotion of an age friendly Ireland and the implementation of the National Positive Ageing Strategy – has now been passed on to the many other organisations who are active in the Irish age sector.

My next move is to the UK where I am starting a new job as Policy Manager with the British Geriatrics Society in October 2014. From there, I shall be following Irish age policy developments with keen interest, and wishing all in Kimmage well as the Development Studies Centre celebrates 40 years of unique service to education for change.

 

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