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Cllr Declan Power / ‘Ireland is seriously failing the disability community’

Declan Power Changing Places
Independent councillor Declan Power tabled the motion at the November meeting of Louth County Council. Photo Credit: Kathy Gilroy-Barry.

Louth County Council must show leadership in their pursuit of improving the quality of life for all citizens and include a Changing Places toilet facility in the new redevelopment of the local authority offices on Fair Street in the town.

That is according to Independent councillor Declan Power, who has urged the council to re-evaluate their decision that their would be no such facility in the redevelopment, a stance they confirmed earlier this year.

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Cllr Power tabled the motion at Monday’s November meeting of Louth County Council, where he gained the support of fellow Independent councillors Maeve Yore, Paddy McQuillan and Hugh Conlon. His motion called on the local authority to write to Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, to follow the example of the UK and change the Irish building regulations to make it mandatory for new public buildings to include Changing Place toilet facilities.

“In this country, they are only 15 registered Changing Place toilet facilities that are open to the public. While building regulations require standard disabled toilets in public buildings, they do not include provision for Changing Place toilet facilities,” Cllr Power told the meeting.

According to the Clogherhead based representative, the UK has over 1,400 Changing Place toilet facilities, while Northern Ireland has over 40. New building regulations will see an expansion of the provision of such facilities in shopping centres, transport hubs, supermarkets, hospitals, sport stadiums and entertainment venues.

“Unfortunately, the lack of Changing Place toilet facilities often restricts families caring for loved ones with disabilities as to what they can do, where they can go and often have no choice but to stay close to home. Ireland is seriously failing the disability community by failing to provide adequate toilet facilities and additional supports for their carers of which they are over 200,000 in this country.”

In September, Cllr McQuillan tabled a similar motion calling on the council to commit to including a Changing Places facility in the redeveloped building in the town centre.

Cllr Power, citing the council’s previous statement that no such facility was planned for Fair Street, continued: “I am sure a skilled architect worth his salt would be well qualified to squeeze in the adequate space required to get this done. The cost of the bells and whistles to make up a changing room toilet facility would cost in the region of €15,000.

“Perhaps, the Council would re-consider the proposal, and include such a necessity in the Fair Street development and demonstrate leadership that this Council continues to commit to improving the quality of life for all citizens in this county regardless of ability or disability.

“Unfortunately, unless building regulations are changed in this country, new public building developments will, apart from standard disabled toilets, will not be obliged to install Changing Places toilet facilities.”

The motion was supported by three of Cllr Power’s Independent colleagues. Cllr Yore described people with severe disabilities having to go without requisite toilet facilities as “inhumane” while Cllr Conlon said it was “not before time” such a facility was made available.”

“It is absolutely ridiculous that we even have to bring these motions to the council,” Cllr Yore continued.

Last month, a brand new, fully accessible toilet and changing facility has was opened at Dundalk Institute of Technology, following a campaign by a student who lives with cerebral palsy who needed an adapted bathroom to meet his needs. Conor Byrne, from Clogherhead, who studies English and Politics is a wheelchair user who requires special assistance to use toilet facilities.

Throughout the 2019/20 academic year, he was forced to use facilities in the neighbouring O’Fiach College – despite the college telling him a dedicated bathroom would be constructed on site by Halloween last year.

Drogheda-based Cllr McQuillan said the local authority cannot rely on the private sector to provide such facilities.

“Individuals that require the use of changing places facilities should have access to them. This is a modern society and we should be providing for the most vulnerable members of our communities. We are supposed to be an inclusive society and if we are we should not be relying on the private sector to do the public sectors job.

“We, as a council should be providing these facilities for our citizens. The current standard of disabled toilets do not meet the needs of all people with disabilities. A changing places facility would ensure that those with specific needs are not excluded in participating in social, cultural and economic activities,” he said.

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