Disabled parking: ‘There is widespread abuse of the badges by people’

Clare campaigner says blue badges are given out too easily and more controls are needed

As the Disabled Drivers Association calls for higher fines and penalty points for people who park in disabled driver spaces John McFarlane, a disabled driver, demonstrates the difficulty of finding a parking space in Ireland. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Ann Marie Flanagan, a wheelchair user who has a blue badge parking disc for her car, once confronted a woman parking illegally in a disabled parking spot in the Dunnes Stores car park in Ennis, Co Clare.

The Ennistymon mother recalls in conversation with The Irish Times that instead of getting an apology, or an admission of fault, the woman abused her, saying: “I know you. I have one of ye at home.”

The issue was brought into sharp focus this week as Judge Patrick Durcan continued his hard-line policy in the District Court against those illegal parkers who fail to pay previously-imposed fines.

Then Judge Durcan banned Ennis man Andrew Ryan of Bridge Court, Tulla Road, from driving for six months after his 02-registered car was parked in a disabled spot last May in the town’s Parnell Street car park.

Saying that Ryan “should be ashamed of himself” and that his behaviour had been “contemptible”, Judge Durcan has taken a tough line on the issue for five years, though his sentences are often overturned on appeal.

Penalty notices

Figures from the Department of Justice are revealing: 84 drivers were issued with penalty notices in Dublin’s south inner city in 2013, but this number had jumped to 284 last year.

In Limerick, 186 fines were imposed in 2013, though the number had jumped to 213 last year, according to the statistics released to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.

Curiously, the judge’s attitude in Clare could help to explain the numbers there, since 125 fixed notices were issued in the county five years ago, compared with 51 last year.

However, Ms Flanagan believes the problem is getting worse: “It is horrendously worse than before and the illegal use of disabled parking spots just shows the depths of disregard for disabled people.”

Often, blue badges are used by non-disabled family members of disabled people: “I know this, because I go up and ask these people why they are parking in disabled parking spots.

More controls needed

“There is widespread abuse of the badges by people,” said Flanagan, who argued that local authorities are giving out the blue badges too easily and that more controls are needed.

On Friday, The Irish Times called to Ryan’s purported Bridge Court address in Ennis and met with the householder to be told that there was no one of that name living at the address, though a letter for him had arrived.

Independent member of Clare County Council Ann Norton backed the judge’s tough action, saying that she hoped it would make “a difference for the likes of my daughter, Nicole”, a 21-year-old wheelchair user.

Often, her daughter has had to abandon plans to shop in Ennis because the disabled bays are improperly occupied. “I believe that there is more consciousness from the general public around the issue,” she said.

The Irish Wheelchair Association said the shortage of on-street parking had made the problem worse, though it hoped that the judge’s actions would serve “as a reminder to motorists”.

Rules review

Discussion about the issue in the Dáil has been rare. Six years ago, Leo Varadkar during his time as minister for transport ruled out increasing fines, following a review of the disabled parking rules.

An €80 fixed charge penalty can be imposed, which goes to €120 if not paid in 28 days. If the fixed charge is not paid within 56 days, the case can be taken to court, where fines of up to €1,000 for a first offence and up to €2,000 for a second can be imposed.

If an individual commits a third or subsequent offence within one year, the court may impose a fine of up to €2,000 and/or a prison term of up to three months, though no known examples of such a sentence exist.