Dear Leo, this is no country for old people

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Dear Leo, this is no country for old people

Patricia argues that the odds are stacked against older people, particularly given her travails in trying to renew her driving licence

HOORAY! I’m in the majority at last, but I wish I could feel a bit more upbeat about it. The over 65s – of which I’m a reluctant member - are now the biggest demographic in the country and if the democratic system was even half as representative as it purports to be, we oldies would be running the show. Instead of that, we seem to be losing our grip on power.

All this talk about having a new and energetic young Taoiseach and Finance Minister is doing my head in. Leo displayed boundless energy with a jog in the park, while his predecessor cycled the challenging Ring of Kerry and nobody even noticed – until he fell off his bike. But that could happen to a bishop.

As I said before, whether we’re in the majority or not, this is no country for old people, especially now that we’re all living in a state of paranoia, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the infamous ‘Emergency’, and which has spawned a strangling bureaucracy.

I don’t know if our energetic new Taoiseach is aware of it yet, but his people are being choked by red tape, control and governance, and mightn’t even be able to vote for him in future without clearance from the Special Branch to enter a polling booth. Older people – those in the larger demographic, some of whom are loath to admit their membership – are particularly vulnerable to all the red tape and governance and should at least be allowed to bring a backpack of sandwiches and flasks into Croke Park to keep the diabetes at bay.

The trouble is that, having survived the last great recession, we don’t trust each other anymore, which might explain why the door is no longer on the latch and why more and more people are now opting to live behind electronic gates with cameras attached. But surely older people, who have worked hard all their lives and who are now developing rheumatic knees from all the past exertion, should be beyond suspicion.

So what am I getting at then with this rant, which seems to be going nowhere at the moment. What exactly am I advocating? Well, since the driving license is the lifeline and the one sure guarantee of independence for so many of our elderly population, I’d like to see something done about the undue hassle that old people have to face getting their licenses renewed, even if the Road Safety Authority goes bananas at the idea. I’m talking about people who are alert and in good physical shape and who have been driving all their lives with an unblemished record -people like a former neighbour who bought himself a new Volkswagen beetle for his 100th birthday.

Not for one minute, by the way, am I suggesting - as someone else did in a recent debate - that older drivers should get a special road license and suffer the indignity of having to carry an ‘E’ sign on their cars to alert other drivers and to ensure that they themselves are treated with consideration. Road safety is about treating everyone with consideration, young and old. What I’m suggesting is just take some of the hassle out of the application.

After ten years – during which I aged considerably and no longer looked anything like I did - I went to renew my driving license last week. It was, to say the least, an unnerving experience, what with having to book a slot online and having to bring with me all kinds of identification and evidence that I was who I said I was. I wasn’t even sure myself, if I was who I said I was, having retained my maiden name in the face of fierce opposition from State agencies, when I married nearly 40 years ago. Neither side would give an inch, so I ended up on official documents ever afterwards with a double barrelled name – to my great embarrassment. The last thing I’d ever want to be is pretentious.

Then there was the problem with my first name, which has haunted me for as long as I can remember. My birth certificate, which I have now filed away under ’top secret’, clearly says ‘Mary Patricia’, but I was always called ‘Patricia’. The trouble is I can never remember what I used the last time I was asked to fill in my first name on an official document. The repercussions of not corresponding exactly could be disastrous, especially on a driving license application, I was told. Then there was the question of the postal code number. They asked for it on the form and I hadn’t a clue what it was. When we got it a couple of years ago, the address was incorrect – they had put us in a completely different townland - and not wishing to have the family resettled after over 300 years in the one spot, I decided never to use it, even if it meant that an ambulance would never be able to reach me in time. But the driving license was different.

Then I had to get a doctor’s cert, which cost me €50, and which would expire in a month if I didn’t get my head around all the red tape in time. To cut a long story short, I presented myself at the NDLS centre, shaking like a leaf because I had no postal code and wasn’t really sure what my first name was. As well as that I was looking a mess for the photograph because I had torn some of my hair out in frustration. The girl at the centre couldn’t have been nicer. She didn’t need the postal code at all and she didn’t know why they looked for it in the first place. She took my picture and I didn’t recognise myself in any of the three presented, but I’m sure it was me. But then she turned me down anyway, because the doctor had forgotten to write in my name in block letters on the cert, even though I had signed it in his presence as required and he had countersigned.

“I’ll write it in myself,” I offered, helpfully.

“You can’t do that,” she said. “We need to know that you are the person the doctor has certified as fit to drive.”

Fit to drive! I was nearly driven demented from all the distrust. Life was never this complicated before, but as I said, it’s no country now for old people.