Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Ten years after we promised to do so, we passed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is good to have an aspiration although, noticeably, we ducked out of the proper option on monitoring. To what extent will the Minister ensure this is made a reality in terms of access to public transport for the disabled and the disability-proofing of public transport?
I will first address the public transport area. My Department's high-level policy goal for accessible public transport, based on the principles of universal access to public transport, is being implemented through my Department's policies and funding. This includes new public transport facilities and infrastructure, retrofitting of older infrastructure, and accelerated investment in public transport. In 2018, I appointed to the boards of the National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and Córas Iompair Éireann directors with direct personal experience of disability.
In the tourism sector, my Department is committed to supporting action 11 of the tourism action plan for the period 2019 to 2021, regarding accessible tourism. In the sports sector, my Department is committed to supporting the national sports policy for the period 2018 to 2021, which contains four specific actions aimed at addressing the disability participation gradients.
My Department continues to work to ensure it meets the 6% target for the employment of people with disabilities over a phased period to 2024 in accordance with the national disability inclusion strategy. The public sector duty, as outlined in section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, is a legal obligation on all public bodies, including all central government Departments, to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees and everyone affected by their functions and services.
To meet its public sector duty, my Department is preparing to carry out shortly an assessment to identify human rights and equality issues, including disability issues, that are relevant to its functions. The assessment will cover my Department's functions as a policy maker, employer and service provider. The assessment will also identify my Department's policies and practices that are in place or those it will plan to put in place to address these issues.
Very simply, if a wheelchair user is trying to get on the DART, he or she will face extreme difficulty in many cases. He or she must give advance notice. At some stations, one simply cannot get on. One certainly has to give very significant advance notice. This unfortunate, unequal and discriminatory situation suffered by people with disabilities has been exacerbated by the removal of staff from many DART stations. That is just one example. The staff would often be the individuals who could facilitate access for people who just came up to a DART station to try to access the service. If the staff are not available, access is impeded. That is just one example.
It is all very well talking about committees, consultation and aspirational commitments under the UN convention but if they do not translate into access to public transport such as the DART for people with wheelchairs and others with a disability, it means very little.
We have made a lot of progress and I absolutely acknowledge we still have plenty to do. This applies not only to the areas to which the Deputy referred but also to others. Since 2010, all new taxi or hackney licences require wheelchair-accessible vehicles. In 2018, the appointment by me to the boards of the National Transport Authority and Dublin Bus of people with direct experience of disability was a major move in the right direction. I hope the Deputy acknowledges that we now have, on every public transport board, directors who are conscious of disability issues and who I hope are at every meeting disability-proofing what is happening in the companies. Their representation surely gives the people who are suffering from disabilities reassurance that everything is being done to look after their needs in a practical way.
On one level, that is an improvement. I acknowledge improvements where they exist, just as I acknowledge the belated but nonetheless welcome signing of the UN convention. This is undermined, however, when decisions are made to reduce staff numbers or remove staff at DART stations or other areas. Often, the real assistance needed to ensure access is from a human being working in public transport and who is in place to provide support and assistance to people with disabilities. What is happening neutralises or subverts the progress the Minister might be making through consultation, albeit welcome, with people with disabilities. He needs to address that.
Many of the DART stations do not have lifts or have a lift on only one side of the track, as is the case in Dalkey DART station. There are real problems getting on if one is on the far side of the tracks. These matters need to be addressed if we are to ensure real equality, to which we are now committed under the UN convention.
The Deputy referred to lifts. I have a few statistics on this that might help him. Across the rail network, of 144 stations, an average of 12 lifts were out of service per week in 2018. The reasons were vandalism, parts being required or technical call-outs. Vandalism accounted for lifts being out of service on over 44 occasions in 2018. Some issues were rectified within an hour while others took up to a month if specialist parts were required to be ordered. Sometimes lifts simply cannot be repaired rapidly, and this obviously has a detrimental and very regrettable effect on people with a disability because it makes it much harder for them to gain access to public transport. I am determined to tackle this in an energetic way also.
Some people were tied up in committees and, with the permission of the House, I am going to go back to Deputy Thomas Byrne's question and then I will proceed to those in the names of Deputies Wallace, Clare Daly and Curran. Is that agreed? Agreed.