Thursday, 13 July 2023
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State for being here to take this issue. As chair of the all-party group on dementia, I have been working closely with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland on a number of projects that impact the lives of people with dementia and their families.One area that we have been co-operating on is the potential for the roll-out of the blue badge scheme, which is the European pass for those who have severe mobility issues or who are blind to be able to access what we call the wheelchair parking spots, being rolled out to people with dementia and their families. As we know, this is a national arrangement of parking concessions for disabled and blind people. It is designed to give them the ability to park close to the facilities and the services they need.
Under the scheme, the disabled parking cards, the blue badges, are issued by the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland on behalf of the Department of Transport. It is an important badge. People who are primary medical certificate holders or registered blind are automatically eligible to avail of it. People who are neither holders of the private medical certificate or registered blind are required to have their form completed by a certified medical practitioner. We know that the medical criteria for use of the permit are strict. I agree with that and think it is important that they are strict.
I am going to make a case for another group of people. Before I make that case, I want to mention that I was at a meeting last night organised by the Fianna Fáil disability group with the Irish Wheelchair Association. Several people present spoke about an unfortunate, sad fact that makes me really angry, which is that able-bodied people are using wheelchair spots to park. It is just shocking. I know awareness schemes are rolled out every so often, such as Make Way Day. Obviously there are fines but I think we need to do more. Shame on anybody who uses a wheelchair parking space when it is not designated for them.
Regarding those who have dementia or Alzheimer's disease, minimal walking distance and familiarity are key factors in enabling people with Alzheimer's disease to access a facility or service safely and with ease and comfort. As such, the main benefit would be to the individual, with improved access to key services as well as to leisure and social activities, which are essential in stimulating the mind and slowing down the progression of the disease. It would also help to alleviate the pressure on carers and family members.
The UK did research on this to evaluate eligibility for parking concessions for five main groups of people, including people with dementia. It introduced this in 2018. It has been really successful. Every day in my office and in my role as Chair of the committee, I deal with people who are living in incredibly challenging and difficult situations, whether they are living with dementia or caring for and supporting their loved ones to remain living as independently as possible in their own home. It is stressful and upsetting. Sometimes, the small things can make a huge difference. In many cases, we are dealing with elderly and vulnerable people. It is important to make their lives less full of hassle and stress.
I met the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, about this before. Does the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, have an update?
I welcome Sasha and Zara, who are visiting with Senator Conway. It is great to see them both. I think Sasha is continuing her mother's tradition, so well done.
I thank Senator O'Loughlin for raising this important issue. Before I go into the substance of the response, I agree with her on it being appalling that people who are not disabled are parking in disabled parking spots. The Senator is probably aware that there is a fixed fine of €150 and if people abuse the permit, there is a fixed fine of €200. However, it should not be happening. It is morally dreadful. They are there for a purpose. As I say, they are a scarce resource and should be valued. I want to put on the record that they should be honoured.
I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. As background, the disabled parking scheme operates by segregating a proportion of public parking bays for the use of disabled parking permit holders. The Senator will appreciate that it only works on public roads and does not apply on private property. These permits, also known as European parking cards or disabled parking badges, the blue badge scheme, are currently available to people living in Ireland whose mobility is severely and permanently restricted, whether they are drivers or passengers.
The intention of the permit, and of the disabled parking scheme more generally, is to provide access to parking bays of sufficient size in close proximity to important services such as post offices, banks, pharmacies and shops for people for whom access to such services would be denied if they could not park and disembark either because of the size of the parking bay or because they could not park within a short distance of a service because of their limited mobility.
As the House is aware, drivers and passengers with various form of cognitive impairment, including dementia, do not qualify for the permit. This is because the disabled parking permit is not aimed at disabled applicants in general, but is in fact specifically designed for people with impaired mobility, as this is the cohort most directly disadvantaged by inaccessible parking spaces that are too far away from their destination, or standard parking spaces that are too small to facilitate safe exit from the vehicle with a wheelchair, walking aid or oxygen equipment. That does not in any way take away from the point the Senator raises about people with dementia.
In 2010, the Department of Transport conducted a review of the disabled parking scheme in consultation with various stakeholders. One of the central issues examined in the course of this review was eligibility for the scheme. Disability groups in particular were unhappy at the fact that some people were being issued with disabled parking permits because they had particular medical conditions rather than an actual mobility impairment. As a result of the review the scheme was revised so that permits are now given on the basis of mobility impairment rather than the diagnosis of a particular condition or illness. This is in line with the original intention of the scheme and prioritises accessible parking for those who need it the most.
Senators may be interested to know that the Department of Transport is currently undertaking a fresh review of the disabled parking scheme, consisting of a thorough mapping of the present operation of the scheme, an analysis of the relevant legislative basis and a targeted stakeholder consultation. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, has confirmed that permit eligibility will be among the matters to be considered in close detail.
I know the Senator raised a pilot scheme which is in operation in the UK. That could feed into the review. The key thing is that a review is under way. I will take back to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the point the Senator raised about people with dementia. There is now a formal review in place. It is something that the dementia group should be involved in and we will take it back to the Minister, Deputy Ryan.
I thank the Minister of State for his positive response and for his understanding of the situation. I appreciate that the Department of Transport is currently undertaking a fresh review of the disabled parking scheme and looking at a thorough mapping of the present operation, and analysing and doing a targeted stakeholder consultation. I am pleased that Indecon has taken this on. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the Alzheimer Society of Ireland is included as a stakeholder for this. I am pleased to hear the Minister of State say that permit eligibility will be among the matters to be considered in close detail. I appreciate that consideration has to be given to the fact that disabled parking spaces are a limited resource and need to be managed in such a way that they are available for those who need them. I accept that. I appreciate the intention of the Department and the Minister.
Do we have a timeline for when the Indecon report will be ready?I will also offer a suggestion. This scheme was fully brought into the UK in 2018. I would be more than happy for a pilot scheme to be run in Kildare as part of Indecon's report.
I again thank the Senator for raising this important issue. The Department of Transport, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I are fully aware of the distress associated with the complex and everyday challenges faced by people with dementia and their families and carers. The Minister fully appreciates that a dementia diagnosis requires a fundamental renegotiation of how individuals engage with the world around them and acknowledges that driving and parking come with a set of challenges.
The Senator raised a couple of points. I do not have a timeframe for the report. The critical thing is that it will be comprehensive. I will go back with the message that the Alzheimer Society of Ireland should be included as part of the review. I note the point the Senator made about Kildare. I have no doubt that is a matter she can take up with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The key thing is that a formal review is under way. That will allow consideration of all matters, including those relating to people with dementia. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.