Disabled suffering 'appalling indignity' on transport routes
One of Ireland's biggest transport unions has joined forces with disability rights groups to demand an end to "the appalling indignity" faced daily by vulnerable people in accessing public and private transport.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) will work with disabled travellers, rights groups and the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) to demand firm Government action to improve access for all.
This will range from investment in vital disability-friendly infrastructure at bus and train stations through to working toward an entirely disability-friendly bus fleet.
NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said the union decided to make equal access to public transport the theme of its biennial conference in Cork.
It follows the frustrations voiced by bus and rail workers over the plight faced on a daily basis by disabled travellers.
"The appalling indignities faced by some of Ireland's most vulnerable people on a daily basis in trying to access their right to public transport has touched the hearts of our members," Mr O'Leary said.
"It is appalling watching a disabled traveller having to use a hoist to get on to a train or bus when other options should be available.
"Those with disabilities are spurned and shunned as they try to conduct their daily business," he added.
Mr O'Leary said that people with disabilities have to signal at least 24 hours in advance if they intend travelling on a bus or train just to ensure a suitable vehicle is allocated for them.
In addition, parents regularly have to carry disabled children up stairs in Dart and train stations because lifts are so often out of service, he said.
Buses with low-lift floors are also often restricted to major urban centres.
Mr O'Leary noted that new private transport operators are not required to ensure their vehicles are disability-friendly.
He said one train station, Connolly in Dublin, even has a large sign indicating to travellers which lifts are out of service on a daily basis.
The situation is so bad in Dublin that one parent, Bernard Mulvany, from Marino, launched a social media campaign in protest at having to carry his wheelchair-bound daughter Sophia (9), up and down stairs at Dart stations because the special access lifts are constantly out of commission.
Mr Mulvany has now launched Access for All Ireland after highlighting the plight of Sophia, who has spina bifida.
He said public transport bodies including Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann and Iarnrod Eireann had tried to lead the way - but he said the Government, the National Transport Authority and other transport operators needed to ensure more was done.
DFI chief executive Independent senator John Dolan said Ireland had signed the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities - and transport rights was now a critical part of it.
Mr Dolan said that Transport Minister Shane Ross would now be asked to update the Oireachtas Transport Committee every six months on how the Government is delivering on key transport rights.
He paid tribute to the NBRU and its members for taking a public stance to support those with a disability.
"It is an absolutely critical move," he said.