Disability rights activist Joanne O’Riordan was verbally abused by an aggressive passenger as she travelled on the train with her brother to accept an award.
Joanne and her brother Stephen O’Riordan were shocked when the man began to “shout vile abuse” after they asked a fellow passenger to move her bag out of the designated disabled space on the Tralee to Dublin train on Thursday.
“Out of nowhere this guy turned around and I’m not going to repeat the language but it was obscene,” said Stephen O'Riordan speaking to Anton Savage on Today FM.
“He just started shouting vile abuse at myself and Joanne and he said that myself and my sister should just get over ourselves.”
“He was constantly roaring at me about the fact that I had asked this woman to move her bags and how dare I ask this small lady to take her bag out of the wheelchair space and put it up into the rack. He just kept going on and on about it."
“Eventually I said to him that he was the one that was a disgrace. He told me to sit down and stop making a show of myself. I said ‘It’s people that would make you embarrassed to be Irish and it’s people like you that prevent my sister from having a full and happy life.’”
Following the incident Joanne tweeted that it was a "horrible experience and totally humiliating".
Stephen revealed that the man’s abuse left him feeling resentment towards Joanne, who was born with the condition Tetra-amelia syndrome, for the first time in his life.
“It was the first time in my life that I looked at Joanne and thought because of your disability you’ve put me in this position and I resent you for who you are.
“We didn’t talk for three hours on the train because there was tension between us. She didn’t expect this guy to say what he said. I didn’t expect it. I was flabbergasted. I nearly did start crying,” he said.
Stephen revealed that nobody in the carriage made a move to stand up for Joanne and nobody stood up to remove their bags from the disabled space in the carriage.
“Not one person stood up and moved their bags and I just told the whole train that they were an utter disgrace and I sat down,” he said.
“The carriage was very tense. I explained the situation to the inspector. I suppose the point I was making was that the bags shouldn’t have been there in the first place and people should have the decency to know that somebody in a wheel chair might want to get on the train.”
Although Stephen revealed that Iranrod Eireann have always been “very good�� to Joanne, he said he will be making a complaint.
“Joanne is the type of person who goes out there and is all about ability and all about trying to get people to understand that people with disabilities should be able to have a full life and to have this person come along and berate me and my sister for being disabled was a disgrace."
“It’s incredible that that is the way people’s mindsets are and the way some people’s attitudes are. That isn’t the way that Joanne should be treated and she shouldn’t have to put up with that abuse,” he said.
Joanne was honoured with the Trailsblazers Award at the Women’s Executive Network’s Most Powerful Women ceremony in the InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge on Thursday.
Having more women leaders is a serious societal goal. The dearth of women in politics at the time of Mary Robinson's ground-breaking election as President of Ireland was what prompted me and a handful of others to run for election. Frances Fitzgerald, now Minister for Justice, was, like me, involved in the women's movement in the early nineties, and we crossed the bridge from private to public life in electoral politics with a certain amount of trepidation. Since then the number of female TDs has remained stubbornly low at around 15pc and out of line with the participation of women in business and in other professions.