Irish Opticians go back much further than the One Hundred Years commemorated by this publication. In the “Dublin Chronicle” of 1787 we read of an optician living on Aran Quay – possibly of the Mason family – and in 1819 there were no less than 14 opticians in Dublin. However, organisation of the profession did not occur until 1905 with the formation of the “Irish Optical Association”, probably stimulated by the formation of the “British Optical Association some ten years previously.
The name was changed in 1945 to “The Association of Ophthalmic Opticians, Ireland” and to its present form “Association of Optometrists, Ireland” on the 22nd. of September, 1986.
The organisation had been formed into a Company in 1954 with a Memorandum and Articles of Association which listed the following objects:
During the earlier years of the development of the Association, a significant input was made by Arthur F. Williams, for many years the Honorary Secretary, and Dr. Malachy O’Callaghan, both of whom were enthusiastic in pursuit of the 1st. of the above objects. Those involved in the profession were encouraged to undertake some of the correspondence courses and the tutorials then available.
At the time of the incorporation, an evening course was running in the College of Technology, Kevin Street, Dublin. This course was subsequently converted to a full-time one, with successful students awarded the Association’s Diploma in Optometry. This has now evolved into a Degree Course in the Dublin Institute of Technology, still in Kevin Street, but in newer and expanding accommodation.
An early effort to introduce a Private Members Bill to Dáil Eireann was unsuccessful but, as announced at the opening ceremony of the 1955 International Congress in Trinity College, Dublin, the Minister for Health indicated that the first Reading of the Opticians Bill had occurred that day, following upon protracted discussions between his Department and the Association. This legislation was very welcome, although not perfect in all senses. Some of the imperfections have been eliminated by the recent Amendments but much remains to be done.
The Opticians Act, 1956, effectively put the Opticians Board in control of education. Rules were made covering the processes necessary for Registration to practice and framing the syllabus of the courses, approved by the Minister for Health. It was recognised that, in addition to the academic qualification needed, assessment of the clinical abilities of those seeking registration should be undertaken by the profession itself, and the Association was appointed to this function by the Board. This arrangement continues to the present day, with both the degree and success in the Association’s P.Q.E. required by the Opticians Board for registration. Under E.U. laws, special rules have been approved for assessing applications from E.U. citizens and the GATS has provided for the assessment of those from further afield.
The 1956 Act came into force in 1959, following upon protracted formulation of those rules required by its provisions. Optometrists had lost the right to prescribe spectacles for those persons contributing to the National Health Insurance Society which body had amalgamated the social functions of what were known as ‘Friendly Societies’. The Opticians Act established the legal functions of optometrists, and in 1961, optometrists were included in the ‘Sight Testing Panel’ claiming a professional fee for this function. The amounts to be claimed for dispensing were always difficult to negotiate, since practice costs varied across the country and there were rigid specifications for those frames which patients could acquire.
The Association believed that this process hindered the development of the scheme and proposed that the charges for dispensing should be listed as a Dispensing Fee and the material costs. The fees could then be adjusted each year in line with the change in Consumer Price Index and this continues to the present day. In more recent times and following upon a deterioration in the ophthalmic services provided for Medical Card holders, the Association negotiated Eye Examination and Dispensing Schemes with the Health Boards which effectively provides the same benefits for Medical Card holders as Treatment Benefits from Social Welfare does for those paying full PRSI and their dependent spouses. These agreements were approved by the Minister for Health and are subject to an annual review process.