Sunday 16 December 2018

'We're protesting because it doesn't change a lot' - Irish Rail's reduction in hours of notice requirement for wheelchair users slammed by twin sisters

Twins, Margaret Kennedy, 65, and Ann Kennedy, 65, from Greystones, protest before the launch of the DART Improved Accessibility Pilot at Connolly Station. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Twins, Margaret Kennedy, 65, and Ann Kennedy, 65, from Greystones, protest before the launch of the DART Improved Accessibility Pilot at Connolly Station. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

Sean Nolan and Kirsty Blake-Knox

A reduction in the hours of notice wheelchair users have to give Irish Rail from 24 to four is no cause for celebration according to twin sisters who were protesting at Connolly Station this morning.

Ann and Margaret Kennedy, along with their friend Aisling, came to the Dublin station to protest the DART Improved Accessability Pilot that was launched by Irish Rail this morning.

The six-month trial will see wheelchair users using a new zonal system to organise accessibility for themselves at the point of departure and at their destination.

During the trial those who wish the use the service will have to give four hours notice to Irish Rail, whereas it required 24-hours notice prior to this week.

However, Ann and Margaret feel they are still being treated as second-class citizens and the reduction is no cause for celebration.

"We're protesting because still, it doesn't change a lot, we still have to give the notice," said Ann Kennedy. "We still have to organise our day around someone else's agenda."

"We should be able to get up in the morning and just go," she added.

Her sister Margaret echoed the sentiment, saying: "If a section of the population have to go by different rules then that is discrimination, it doesn't mean equality."

In a statement to Corporate Communications Manager of Irish Rail Barry Kenny said of the change: "We see this as progress, not resolution, but we do want to deliver improvement where we can. 

"The change will ensure users who require assistance will get better, more timely and more responsive service from us, and we will continue to work with representative bodies and individual users to enhance the service we provide beyond this pilot."

Meanwhile, in a separate incident at the launch, a wheelchair user attending the event was unable to disembark a train in Connolly Station as rail staff had forgotten to notify the station of his arrival.

A second wheelchair user, who was also attending the launch of the accessibility programme, had to ask his friend to help him off the train after rail staff arrived late at the platform.

Transport Minister Shane Ross was scheduled to attend the launch but had to cancel as he had several meetings to attend, his spokesperson said.

Both of the wheelchair users said their experiences had undermined their confidence in the service.

Disability Activist Sean O’Kelly (25) from Dalkey informed staff at Dalkey Dart station he was attending the launch but they failed to phone ahead and notify Connelly station.

As a result, the person he was travelling with had to run to the front of the train and inform the driver of O’Kelly’s presence on board.

Meanwhile, Liam Daly (20) from the Navan Road said a member of Irish Rail was late and not visible when the train he was travelling on arrived at the station.

Concerned he might miss the launch, Daly asked his friend to help him disembark the train.

When the rail staff member saw him do this, they became hostile towards Daly.

O’Kelly described his experience arriving at the station as ‘laughable’. 

 “When someone didn’t come I laughed,” O’Kelly said. “To be coming to a launch for accessibility and for that to happen? I just burst out laughing.”

He added that  he “has no confidence in the four-hour notice” programme and believes no one should have to give four hours warning to take public transport.

“We shouldn’t have to give any notice at all,” he said.

“It is disgraceful. It just shows how we are discriminated against.”

Barry Kenny of Irish Rail described O’Kelly and Daly’s experience as ‘unfortunate’.

“It is unfortunate of course…We will take that feedback because users have to have confidence in the system or else it won’t work. Confidence is the foundation of what we are trying to do. It is very unfortunate that someone experienced that today.”

He added; “We would ask people to give this process time. We are confident people will see an improvement.”

Several individuals at the launch expressed disappointment Minister Ross had not been present. 

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