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DCC to seek legal advice on whether transport plan consultation complied with disability rights

“This has real and devastating impacts on us when it’s not done right.”

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL management has agreed to seek a legal opinion on whether a public consultation on the new transport plan for the city centre complied with legal obligations on disability rights.

The Dublin City Centre Transport Plan, which is due to start taking effect in phases from August, is set to change the flow of traffic in the city centre to try to reduce congestion and free up more space for public transport, walking and cycling. 

A public consultation that was previously conducted on the plan received a largely positive response to its objectives – however, concerns have been raised about whether there was adequate consultation with Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs).

“This has real and devastating impacts on us when it’s not done right. It’s about putting humans at the heart of decision-making,” said Robert Sinnott, Co-Ordinator for Voice of Vision Impairment, speaking to The Journal.

Dublin City Council

The question of whether DPOs were meaningfully consulted was raised at a meeting of Dublin city councillors yesterday evening when a motion was tabled to scrap the consultation findings.

DCC chief executive Richard Shakespeare said at the meeting that six DPOs were individually contacted to advise them that a public consultation process would be commencing and that DCC would welcome submissions from them. He said they were subsequently contacted when the consultation was live.

Shakespeare said that by 1 December, only one DPO had made a submission, and that this submission was included and the concerns raised within it were taken into account.

Nonetheless, several councillors were still concerned that the council did not meaningfully engage with DPOs throughout the consultation process, but the council voted against scrapping the consultation.

Not all organisations that relate to disability rights are DPOs; DPOs specifically are organisations led by people with disabilities

Today, in a new letter, seen by The Journal, DCC Chief Executive Richard Shakespeare informed the Lord Mayor and councillors that “following discussions with Councillor Damian O’Farrell, I have agreed to Councillor Farrell’s request for a legal opinion to be sought on the Council’s statutory obligations in relation to UNCRPD in light of Sections 64 and 69 of the Local Government Act”.

Councillor Damian O’Farrell believes the Dublin City Transport Plan Public Consultation report did not comply with Ireland’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

“There is no reference to UNCRPD, nor is there prioritisation of DPOs’ views nor consultation at concept stage, nor any close consultation at all, nor any written report specifically evaluating the views of DPOs,” O’Farrell said to The Journal.

“All and sundry are being liaised with except the organisations we are obliged to have close consultation with as per the UNCRPD under the Local Government Act 2001. These organisations need support – that’s the whole point of close consultation.”

‘Real effects on our lives’

Speaking to The Journal, Robert Sinnott of Voice of Vision Impairment said that the needs of disabled people have not been sufficiently taken into account in the new transport plan.

One of the key issues for people with visual impairments, he said, are island bus stops, which are areas where a cycle path runs between a footpath and the bus stop, meaning that pedestrians have to cross the cycle lane to access the bus stop.

He also said that cars with a Disabled Persons Parking Permit, or “blue badge”, not being allowed to travel on roads newly designated for public transport would be another accessibility barrier.

“Under the law, they [Dublin City Council] have to closely consult and actively involve organisations like ours and they have to do that from the earliest possible stage. Anything else is tokenism,” Sinnott said.

He said the issue may “sound abstract” but in fact it has “real effects on our lives”, saying that “reckless planning” creates dangers for people with visual impairments.

“We’re not against climate action. We have children too and we want a world that everybody can live in, but one that’s equally liveable for all,” Sinnott said. He added that policymakers “shouldn’t be hitting the most marginalised and most vulnerable” when enacting reform.

Consultation

Guidelines from the National Disability Authority – which were developed with input from public officials, including from Dublin City Council and the Department of Transport – state that consulting with non-DPO organisations does not replace the requirement to consult with DPOs.

The guidelines detail that there are many organisations and disability service providers that advocate of behalf of disabled people or raise awareness about disability rights, but these are not DPOs “because they are organisations ‘for’ people with disabilities and not ‘of’ people with disabilities” and do not meet the necessary criteria.

“These organisations often have much more funding than DPOs and many have long-standing relationships with Departments and public bodies,” the guidelines detail.

“These groups can still be involved in consultation, as they hold important and valid points of view. However, consulting with these organisations does not replace the requirement to consult with DPOs who are the representative organisations of disabled people. The views of non-DPO stakeholders should also be considered in light of any conflict of interest they may have.”

The guidelines also emphasise that when consultation happens it should be done in a way that is not tokenistic. “Tokenism happens when organisations want to appear to have engaged with disabled people, or any underrepresented group, but have not done so meaningfully,” the document states.

Examples listed of tokenism include consulting disabled participants too late in the process or not making all the information available in an accessible format.

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