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Don't patronise the elderly -- they mean business

Confusion. Memory loss. Poor judgment. An inability to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Fleeting awareness of mistakes resulting in mood swings and erratic decision-making.

The mix-up surrounding the tax-demand letters from the Revenue Commissioners to pensioners has been disturbing to watch.

We should acknowledge, however, that the symptoms detailed above offer a much more accurate description of the behaviour of the authorities in recent days than the OAPs who received the menacing missives.

Not that you would have gleaned such an impression by following the controversy on the public airwaves. Far from it.

In their eagerness to condemn the latest bureaucratic blunder by the powers that befuddle, most politicians, commentators and vested interests once again opted to portray the elderly as helpless victims, a pitiful bunch of old dears caught in the headlights.

Ireland is having what might be described as a senior moment. Virtually everybody who has added even two cent to the row over the taxation letters, including the Revenue bean counters themselves, has wanted to be seen to be taking the pensioners' side.

Yet despite all the goodwill, much of the language used to express this solidarity has served only to infantilise, demean and cretinise the old.

So, for the record, here goes a statement of what should be the blindingly obvious. Ageing is not a disease. Dates on a birth certificate tell us little about the capabilities, talents or attitudes of the certificate's holder.

Reaching the age of pension entitlement is a milestone, rather than a millstone. A bus pass is not a one-way ticket to the knacker's yard.

The relentless depiction of older people -- especially by bodies that purport to represent older people -- as physically and mentally frail is dangerously counterproductive, not to mention downright misleading.

Sure, there are many senior citizens who face acute problems because of illness, isolation or economic circumstances.

However, there is a much greater number who lead busy, adventurous lives and who are simply bemused by all this talk about their "vulnerability".

In many ways, the early 21st Century is a golden age for those in their golden years. This is the era of active retirement and life-long learning, the silver surfer and the silver fox. Fitter, richer and stronger than their antecedents, most have much more to live for than many half their age.

Ironically, the fallout from this fiasco serves only to highlight the formidable force that is grey power. The speed and determination with which pensioners reacted to the letters was evidence of strength, not weakness.

The reason governments quake before any pensioner protest is because politicians understand how deeply politicised these people are. The elderly are the group most likely to vote. They are also exceptionally well informed.

OAPs were, for instance, among the keenest followers of the assorted corruption tribunals. It was they who filled the public galleries at Dublin Castle as details emerged of how politicians and the wealthy conspired for decades against the public interest. These people know how this country actually works and they won't get fooled again.

Yes, some of the loudest, special pleading sometimes comes from old folks themselves. But that's simply another manifestation of their political acumen.

They understand the game: you leave your opponents under no illusion about the seriousness of your demands, overstating the case if necessary. You brook no compromise and take no prisoners.

If all else fails, you kick up an unmerciful stink, calibrating your expressions of indignation to ensure optimum coverage on the evening news.

In truth, other sectors of society would be well advised to take a leaf from the pensioners' playbook. As we venture deeper into a period of stark economic choices, in which the Government must confront the financial crisis by taking tough decisions, rather than picking on soft targets, the fortitude and self-confidence of the senior citizenry is an example to us all.

Never underestimate the wisdom of the ancients. Old people know how to live -- they have, after all, been doing it longer than the rest of us.

Indo Review