A dedicated local governance group is the best way to improve the care of our elderly population, the Citizen’s Assembly has been told.

Dr Diarmuid O’Shea, consultant physician in geriatric medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital and National Clinical lead for the Older Person’s programme said this would ensure “the right things would happen more quickly”.

“I would have in place a dedicated local governance group for older people, either in the locality or electoral division or county, so that they were able to drill down into their own statistics and plan accurately for them,” Dr O’Shea said.

The Citizens’ Assembly met on Saturday to discuss long-term care of the elderly and facilitating independent living in Ireland. The 99 members of the Assembly are looking at how best to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population over the next two weekends.

“Ageing affects each and every one of us, personally as an individual and also those closest to us, so this is not an abstract discussion, this is a very real discussion for each and every one of us in the room,” Dr O’Shea said. “As we all live longer and healthier lives, there’s a huge opportunity for our country to lead a change.”

The Citizens’ Assembly’s chairperson Justice Mary Laffoy said responding and caring for our older population is “a complex and challenging topic” while “much more work is required” to facilitate independent living in Ireland.

“Long-term care is not solely about a health or social care matter, it is about much more than that and just because someone is old does not mean that they do not have a contribution to make, something to say or a role to play,” Ms Justice Laffoy said. She also urged members of the Assembly to “open your minds” and “place yourself in the shoes of an older person and consider how you want to live your life as an older person”.

Ms Justice Laffoy said 120 submissions have been received by the Assembly on how best to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.

Deirdre Cullen, senior statistician at the Central Statistics Office (CSO) told the Assembly that between 2011 and 2016, the population aged 65 and over increased by 19 per cent from 535,000 to 630,000. According to the latest census, 9,300 of those aged 65 and over were renting privately, up from 8,500 five years ago. “Definitely there’s some food for thought there I would think particularly with regards to those renting privately, which might make them or leave them a bit vulnerable,” Ms Cullen said.

While four out of five own their home outright, there are 157,000 people aged 65 or over living alone in Ireland, while 62 per cent of these are women.

The Assembly previously met for five weekends on the topic of the Eighth Amendment. It voted by almost two to one to recommend that abortion on demand be available. Participants voted by a margin of more than six to one that Article 40.3.3 “should not be retained in full”.