Robin Webster, Founder of Age Action Ireland, reflects on the charity’s momentous protest against the Government’s proposed withdrawal of the automatic right to medical cards for over 70s.
“This was the first event of its kind that we organised and, I can say on behalf of the staff, that it was the members who pushed us into it. It was literally a mass movement of people protesting about the withdrawal of the automatic right to the medical card.
I remember we organised a room for 300 people at the Alexander Hotel. One of my colleagues, Lorraine, made alternative arrangements with Westland Row church, just in case the turnout was too large. At a quarter to eleven, just a few minutes before we were supposed to start, there were 300 people in the hotel, at least another 300 out on the street, and I thought, ‘This is far too small, they’ll have to go to the church.’
We ended up having between 1600 - 1800 people marching that day.
The really important thing about the event was that it was the members themselves that came up in their droves and, secondly, people were so engaged by it. The outstanding thing I remember was that all the men were putting their hands up wanting to speak.
After a while I said, ‘Look, the majority of older people are women, let’s hear the women’, and a series of women came up to speak. All these women said, ‘You know, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken in public.’ And yet they did it.
It was the solidarity that people felt stronger, and better able, because they were with other people as a movement. It was very exciting, and people still talk about being in ‘The Class of 2008’ - and our membership figures rose.
It was one of those rare occasions where the Cabinet changes its mind at 11 o’clock in the morning, all because a group of older people were going to meet an hour later. It was extraordinary. Politicians and other groups continue to refer to ‘Westland Row’. We should do it more often to be honest.
There were quite a lot of younger people interested too and the solidarity between the generations is very important. That’s one of our priorities at Age Action:
It doesn’t matter what age you are, we’re all aging together and we have to support each other.”