Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


5:15 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I acknowledge all of the people who made submissions, particularly those who made presentations to the committee. Some of the people who made presentations to the committee did so at some discomfort and inconvenience to themselves.

They shared very personal stories and first-hand experience with us as committee members, which very much enabled us to publish this report. I also acknowledge Senator John Dolan and his assistant, Ciarán Delaney, for their championing of this and ensuring that this report came to fruition.

The Minister quite rightly says there has been progress, and it would be wrong not to acknowledge it. The appointment of people with a disability to the various State boards is a welcome development and undoubtedly will ensure that any decisions taken at board level in the future will reflect the needs of people with disabilities. What was reinforced to me as a committee member over the hearings was that there are vast differences in the experiences of disability and that it is therefore important to provide a diverse and flexible array of supports to cater for people with the varying disabilities and varying levels of disability. There are mobility issues, people with restricted and limited sight and people with psychological and intellectual disabilities. Speaking of intellectual disabilities, I acknowledge the work that has been done on the promotion of the "just a minute", JAM, card which the various bodies need to acknowledge, take on board and implement. Quite often not every disability is obvious to the person one is dealing with, and we need to acknowledge the diverse levels of disability out there.

Accessibility is a precondition for persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully and equally in society. Without access to the physical environment, from transportation to information, communication and other facilities and services open or provided to the public, persons with disabilities would not have equal opportunities to participate in their respective societies. I am thinking of two contributions from witnesses to the committee. Dr. Margaret Kennedy told the transport committee that she was left at the end of a very long platform at Heuston Station in the dark, with not a soul in sight, and became very scared. About 20 minutes or half an hour later a single cleaner arrived and Dr. Kennedy was rescued. This incident in the not-too-distant past is a very strong indictment of a State service.

Another witness, Alannah Murray, told the committee she had missed out on business meetings that could have secured her a job. She stated, "I have had to miss appointments because I have showed up for my pre-booked bus only to be told that there has been a mis-communication and I will be unable to travel as the bus has not been properly adapted to allow me onto it." This is simply not good enough and again reinforces the need to address this issue to ensure that people with a disability can lead normal lives and integrate into society just as we have the benefit of doing daily. None of us in this Chamber must warn a company when we want to take a bus or give 24 hours' notice if we want to take a train. We must strive to ensure that just because someone has a disability does not mean he or she should not be able to lead a normal life and get around in the very same way as people who do not have a disability.

The Minister referred in his speech to rail accessibility and the increase from €1 million to €3 million provided for railway station accessibility upgrades this year. How many stations will this address? That is the crucial point. We need to know how many stations will become more accessible with the increase in funding. Is this level of funding enough to make all stations accessible? I do not think so. I do not know. The Minister made reference to the urban bus services, and that was welcome, but he forgot to mention the rural bus services. Only approximately 40% of our bus stops across rural Ireland have been surveyed. Of those that have been surveyed, the majority are yet to become accessible. We do not have them all surveyed so we do not even know how many we need to improve.

This report identifies 16 specific recommendations. Due to the short time I have, I will just allude to a number of them. One is the review of the free travel scheme. This is urgently needed. Free travel is currently made available to senior citizens, and I do not begrudge them that at all, but people with a disability are only eligible for the free travel scheme if they are in receipt of disability allowance. I know a person in my constituency who is on a payment similar to disability allowance and was signed off work due to disability. However, because he has a public service pension, he does not qualify for disability allowance, and because of this he is not entitled to free travel, despite the fact that he has severe mobility and medical issues that require him to travel to Dublin very frequently. I have raised this anomaly with the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, and I am raising it with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport this evening. It needs to be addressed.

A number of Deputies raised the issue of commercial bus services at the committee meetings. It is proposed to ensure that no commercial bus operator should be allowed to provide a service that does not meet the same standard the Department imposes on Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. This is not currently the case, and that can be addressed quite quickly.

I like recommendation No. 15 which proposes to establishment of key performance indicators in order that when State companies or commercial operators providing a State service fail in their duty of care, there are consequences in the form of financial penalties, which can then be passed on to the people the companies have let down in the form of compensation.

Two other issues not in the report need to be highlighted. One is a major failing of this Government and the previous Government. I refer to the motorised transport grant, which was suspended almost six years ago. It is closed to new entrants but is critically important, particularly to people who live in areas where no public transport is available. No matter when this matter is raised, whether on the Order of Business or during Priority Questions or Other Questions, it seems to be "imminent". That imminency has lasted the best part of five or six years. It cannot go on any longer. While this is not the Minister's responsibility, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport he needs to get in touch with the relevant Minister and ensure that this new scheme is opened up to new applicants without further delay.

Another area where the Government is failing very badly is the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. I do not know whether other Members have experience of this, but certainly in the past two years the conditions and eligibility criteria that have been set down have become extremely strict. I know a young man who is only kept out of a wheelchair by his own will, and he has been refused on two separate occasions in this regard. The scheme is not fit for purpose. It needs to be reviewed, and I ask the Minister to use his good offices to ensure that this is done.

As the Chairman of the committee and the Minister said, there is a six-month review. The Minister will be invited before the committee at the end of April to give an update on every one of the 16 recommendations. I will be there, as will other members, because there has very much been cross-party collaboration on this. We want to see improvements, and the Minister is the person in the position to deliver on these improvements. I hope he will honour his commitment and I look forward to welcoming him before the committee at the end of April to review all the recommendations that have been put before him.


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