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'My heart sank': Use of 'kissing' gates criticised over lack of accessibility for wheelchair users

Journalist Ellis Palmer Babe, who is a wheelchair user, was unable to get through a kissing gate in Dodder Valley Park earlier this week.

File photo of a kissing gate.
File photo of a kissing gate.
Image: Shutterstock/JohnatAPW

THE USE OF ‘kissing’ gates in Dublin’s Dodder Valley Park has been criticised for making it “impossible” for wheelchair users to use a greenway in the area.

Journalist Ellis Palmer Babe, who is a wheelchair user, posted a video of himself on Twitter trying to get through a ‘kissing gate’, which he encountered while cycling on the Dodder Greenway with members of South Dublin County Council.

Kissing gates are designed to control access to certain areas. They usually consist of a square or semi-circular enclosure on one side and a hinged gate that swings between two shutting posts, allowing one person to pass through at a time. 

The gates were installed in 2020 by South Dublin County Council (SDCC) in order to prevent scrambler bikes from entering the park.

The bikes have been involved in numerous accidents in recent years which resulted in people sustaining severe injuries, or in some cases, losing their lives.

However, Palmer Babe highlighted how the gate prevented him from cycling through the estate and taking in some of the local area, which he would have liked to do.

A video taken by him and posted on social media shows how, after making several attempts to get through the gate, he was unable to do so with his wheelchair and handcycle.

“When we got to that point, and I saw all the kissing gates kind of leading off into that estate, my heart just sank if I’m honest with you,” he told The Journal.

“Because disabled people, elderly people, parents pushing children or somebody who’s a little bit infirm and struggles with their balance: all of these people are being excluded from that fantastic, phenomenal greenway facility.

“That particular park had a significant number of greenways and I thought: ‘I’ve got to try and see if I can get through one of these [gates] just to see if I can’.”

“It’s more that it just stops it being an active travel route and it stops it from being easy to go from A to B to C quickly, safely and easily.”

A spokeswoman for SDCC told The Journal that the council ”regrettably” had to install the gates at various locations in recent years, including at Dodder Valley Park, because the use of scramblers and quad bikes was “putting park users in danger”.

“It is unsatisfactory that the illegal operation of scrambler motorbikes in public parks is still an issue in the county,” a statement read.

“It is hoped that the introduction of new legislation in the area in the near future will give the Gardaí the powers they need to address this issue more effectively by enabling them to seize and destroy scramblers when required.”

However, Palmer Babe questioned this.

“The funny thing is, the kissing gate goes up higher than the actual wall does. So if I was young, and I came to that wall, then the first thing I’d do is chuck the scrambler over the wall,” he said.

Dodder Valley Park covers a number of electoral areas in Dublin, and independent councillor for the Firhouse-Bohernabreena area Alan Edge told The Journal that he has put down a motion to call for the removal of the kissing gates in his locality due to the lack of accessibility for disabled people.

But he said that residents in Tallaght have opposed the removal of the gates due to problems with scramblers.

“To be fair to them, there were problems with scramblers and people’s lives were made miserable. My response to that would be that kissing gates don’t prevent scramblers. If a scrambler wants to get in, they’ll get in,” he said.

It’s really, to my mind, about the balance of harm. I think if we have wheelchair users, people in adapted wheelchairs and Ellis, sadly, isn’t the first to face this problem, then it’s a problem that we simply have to tackle, and that is going to mean some difficult conversations around this. But they’re conversations we need to have.

An amendment to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Quadbikes and Scramblers) Bill 2021 which aims to give Gardaí the power to seize scramblers and quad bikes when being used unlawfully has passed the second stage of debate in the Dáil. 

But Edge said that there is an “urgent need” for tougher legislation when it comes to scramblers. 

“I don’t think it’s a tenable position for us to be locking people out, effectively, until the Government does its job as regards controlling scramblers I just don’t think that’s a viable option,” he said.

Adjustable gate

The SDCC spokeswoman also said the kissing gates in the park will not be a permanent fixture, and that once new legislation is in place and being implemented, SDCC will review the position and “hopefully remove these controls”.

She said the council has recently trialled an adjustable kissing gate, which can operate as a kissing gate when necessary, but in other times can be left open.

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“This modification is being examined in relation to some access points in Dodder Valley Park. It will only be possible, however, to leave such gates open when there is no longer a threat of access to the park by scramblers,” she added.

Palmer Babe said that there has been good work done by the council to remove kissing gates and barriers in certain areas already.

“I mean, it’s not about removing all of them. Sure, you might have to keep a few of those kissing gates to stop the scramblers, that’s grand, but maybe have at least one or two entrances and exits from that estate where you can get in easily, because at the moment you’re just kind of hemmed in. There’s no way you can get off to the next bit,” he said.

That’s still a gate that you might have to open if you’re trying to travel independently as a disabled person, if you’re trying to pop to the shops by yourself or anything like that. Not actually having a key system or having something in place just means that disabled people become reliant on non-disabled people, rather than being able to do things as independently as they can and should do.

“I do understand that there are concerns about antisocial behaviour, but ultimately you know, in law, there is right for reasonable accommodation for disabled people when it comes to public infrastructure, and it’s disappointing to see but this hasn’t been considered on what is otherwise excellent route,” he said.

Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) says that States should take appropriate measures to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

It specifically calls on States to ensure that people with disabilities can access physical environments, transportation and other facilities and services which are open and provided to the public “on an equal basis with others”.

A spokesperson for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) told The Journal said the commission noted the obligations of the council as a public body under the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.

“All public bodies in Ireland have responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans,” a statement said.

“This is a legal obligation, called the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty, and it originated in Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014.”

SDCC spokeswoman added that it would be preferable not to have to spend money on the gates and barriers to protect users and parks facilities/pitches from the illegal use of vehicles in these spaces.

“The council continues to work with An Garda Síochána and the elected members to eliminate this illegal activity and works with all users to improve safe access to parks and public spaces,” the spokeswoman said.

About the author:

Jane Moore

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