Ageism“When they discovered I was over 70 years of age, they said to me they couldn’t let me have it because the insurance wouldn’t cover me.”

As heard on liveline

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It seems, if the experience of callers to Wednesday’s Liveline are anything to go by, that, once you turn 70, insurance companies decide that you’re too much of a risk for certain activities. The man who got the ageism discussion started was Gerry, who told Joe that he had tried to hire a hoist so he could trim his (presumably very tall) hedges. But he was told that he couldn’t hire the hoist, as the hire company couldn’t get insurance to cover him. Why not? Because he’s over 70. 

“When they discovered I was over 70 years of age, they said to me they couldn’t let me have it because the insurance wouldn’t cover me.” 

That wasn’t the first time that Gerry – who has driven trucks across Europe – ran into problems because of his age. He had been driving for a bus operator who gets work from Bus Éireann and, as soon as he turned 70, that operator couldn’t hire him because apparently Bus Éireann don’t allow drivers over 70 to drive schoolchildren in busesHe also couldn’t hire a motor home this year, again, due to his age. 

“I was travelling all over Europe driving a truck, delivering beef. France, Germany, Holland, England. No problem. Nobody stopped me or nobody said to me, ‘Oh you’re over 70, you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’” 

Gerry spent 30 years with the Fire Brigade, so he has plenty of experience with hoists and working at a height. The hire company didn’t tell him why he couldn’t be insured, they just told him he was over 70 and ineligible as a result. That’s when Noel joined the conversation with his memorable experience a couple of months ago with a hedge trimmer. Stop reading now if you’re squeamish. 

I was out cutting the hedge with a petrol-operated hedge trimmer – which I’ve been using maybe, since they were invented, for the past 30 years – and I was doing it for about an hour and then I just, whatever way I just, it slipped and it caught in the knee and cut me practically into the bone.” 

Noel was quick to reassure a worried-sounding Joe that the accident sounded worse than it was, but he was probably just being brave. I mean, a hedge trimmer to the knee? It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a sequel to GoodfellasStitches in the Emergency Department anyway. Let’s move on from the knee, shall we? Joe found a job for Gerry in the Dundalk Democrat: a plant delivery driver. Which seems to suggest, Joe says, that Gerry could deliver the hoist, just not use it. 

Cathleen joined the conversation. She’s not yet 70, but her experience suggests that some institutions get their ageism in early. She was referred to a coronary rehabilitation unit in a hospital in the west and they rang her one day: 

“And they said, ‘You had such a procedure,’ and they said as well, ‘Well, you’re 70 this year, so we’re not calling people over 70, we’re calling people under 70 for it.’ I protested. They said they were the instructions. They were dealing with the younger people first.” 

Eventually Cathleen convinced them to let her be seen, but it wasn’t easy and she believes that they only agreed to it because she made a fuss. Cathleen’s conclusion from her dealings with the hospital are a little chilling: 

“I wasn’t the age where they thought I was worth saving or working with.” 

“Total discrimination”, is Gerry’s verdict. You can hear the full conversation about ageism, led by the redoubtable Gerry – who also does a fine bit of singing – by going here. 

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2020

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