‘When I became a wheelchair user I had to stop visiting my regular Dublin haunts’

Ireland has a strange double standard when it comes to building regulations

Louise Bruton: 'I have to make compromises when it comes to socialising in so-called protected buildings.' Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Louise Bruton: 'I have to make compromises when it comes to socialising in so-called protected buildings.' Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

If you haven’t noticed already, Dublin is reinventing itself. To keep up with the Silicon giants flooding the docks and to entertain the increasing number of tourists visiting for long weekends or ancestral deep dives, the Dublin we once knew is being demolished and the rules are changing to accommodate the city’s new look.

As a wheelchair user, I have an unusual knowledge of building regulations and, with that, I know that protected buildings tend to be prioritised over disabled people. According to the 2011 Architectural Heritage Protection guidelines for planning authorities, regulations for fire safety and access use can be relaxed if it’s deemed that the “architectural integrity” of a building would be compromised otherwise. So if a certain pub, theatre or restaurant in a building with any historical importance – any at all – planned to insert a lift or a large bathroom suitable for disabled customers, they could be denied permission to do so on the grounds that that building is protected.

Disabled tourists will have very few places they can actually visit and disabled locals will have very few places to live in or socialise

However, there’s a strange double standard happening with building regulations in Ireland right now. It’s hard to believe that certain establishments can’t insert lifts or other access features because their building is listed when countless buildings with huge historical and cultural significance across the country are either falling into states of total disrepair or are being bulldozed to make way for more hotels and office blocks. When you weigh up the exclusion of disabled people in the name of protection, the lack of duty towards these protected buildings is appalling.

An Táisce’s website has a full list of “buildings at risk” that are sitting idle, and you can cross reference these buildings on dublincity.ie to see if they are considered to be protected. All across Ireland, mills, castles, prisons, pubs, hospitals, markets, gorgeous country estates, follies, hotels, distilleries and churches are just rotting and collapsing in on themselves, and that’s somehow acceptable to local councillors. But if these buildings were renovated, their “protection” could somehow eliminate the provision of access facilities.

Since becoming a full time wheelchair user in 2013, I’ve had to make compromises when it comes to socialising in so-called protected buildings. However, as I see cranes filling the skyline and piles of rubble sitting where former theatre spaces, pubs, music venues and creative outlets used to live, I wonder what exactly is being protected here? Is it buildings, people or bloated bank accounts? It’s certainly not culture or community, that much I sadly know.

Bernard Shaw: the popular Dublin pub is closing and the site will be redeveloped. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell
Bernard Shaw: the popular Dublin pub is closing and the site will be redeveloped. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Of course, as brand new buildings pop up, there is the benefit that they will fully comply with the building regulations but, realistically, how beneficial can boutique hotels and office spaces be to disabled people living in and around Dublin? Disabled tourists will have very few places they can actually visit and disabled locals will have very few places to live in or socialise. According to the European Commission, Ireland has one of the lowest employment rates for disabled people in the European Union, so it would be great if the companies renting these office spaces – with all their new fangled access features – made a push to increase the number of disabled people in their workforce. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one.

When I heard the news that the Bernard Shaw, a pub I spent most of my early 20s and non-wheelchair days in, will be closing next month, I realised that I was hosting my second wake for Dublin. The first began when I became a wheelchair user and had to stop visiting my regular haunts and I’m currently in the throes of the second one. As our cultural hotspots are being flattened to accommodate a newer, shinier city, I realise that all of these promises of protection were just biding time until a better offer came along.

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