The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) in Wexford has been involved in a campaign aimed at highlighting the level of abuse that goes on with regard to able-bodied people parking their cars in disabled parking bays.
Aside from being illegal such bad habits can cause much inconvenience for disabled drivers and one of the main strategies of the 'Back in 5' campaign was to reverse the role.
Through the initiative, which took place yesterday, the IWA arranged to have wheelchairs parked in any vacant, non-disabled parking space its members could find along the Crescent Quay area of Wexford town.
The wheelchairs were adorned with a sticker displaying the message 'Back in 5' signifying that the owner would be back in five minutes.
A spokesperson for the IWA said the aim of the event was to: 'Raise awareness of the misuse of disabled parking spaces.'
She went on to comment that the initiative was based on the Lisbon Experiment which took place in Portugal in 2014.
'That was a campaign designed to highlight the frustrations people with disabilities face every day when able-bodied people park their cars in wheelchair accessible spaces without a valid parking permit or reason to do so,' said the IWA spokesperson.
The campaign concept was relatively simple, as the spokesperson pointed out: 'Each regular car space on the street had an empty wheelchair parked in it with a note pinned to the back with messages such as 'Be back in 5 minutes' or 'just gone to the bank'.'
'These are the throw-away statements that people with disabilities encounter every day when people use accessible spaces who do not need to do so,' said the spokesperson.
In addition to the problems cause by abuse of the parking spaces that do exist the IWA says an increase in the number of disabled parking bays is needed in the town - especially along the quay-front.
'Accessible car spaces are located nearest to building entrances or lifts to make it convenient for people with limited mobility or those using wheelchairs to access services,' said the spokesperson.
'It is important that these spaces are not abused in any way,' she added.
A number of Wexford County Council members were in attendance at yesterday's event to give their support to the overall campaign.
Superintendent Designate Denis Whelan from Wexford Garda Station was one of a number of Gardai in attendance to ensure the safety of the campaigners and also of road users but the members were also there to give their support to the event.
'We would be supportive of the message they are trying to relay to the general public about raising awareness of the issue,' he said.
'We will be clamping down on such activity over the coming months, we will be issuing tickets and vehicles will be towed away,' he added.
The IWA spokesperson said her organisation is 'acutely aware' of the need for people to have access to parking and of its impact on local businesses and service providers.
'We also acknowledge the revenue from parking in town,' she said.
Last year there were 120 fixed-charge-penalty notices issued in the Wexford Garda Division for the offence of parking in a disabled parking bay.
Unfortunately, that figure has doubled compared to the number of fines issued in 2015 when 60 tickets were handed out while in 2016 the number of tickets issued was 105.