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The newly refurbished Dún Laoghaire Baths. Peter Cavanagh/Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council

Complaints as steep temporary ramps at Dún Laoghaire Baths won't be upgraded until later in year

Access For All co-founder Sean O’Kelly told The Journal that the temporary ramps are too steep for independent access.

COMPLAINTS HAVE BEEN made by wheelchair users about the lack of overall accessibility at the newly-refurbished Dún Laoghaire Baths in Dublin, with the temporary ramps on the lower level condemned as too steep.

While the baths were reopened in late December, work is still ongoing to make the area fully accessible, and the local council has acknowledged that the lower level is not accessible to all. 

It has emerged that works to make the entire area accessible won’t get underway until later this year. 

Sean O’Kelly, co-founder of Access For All, told The Journal that the current temporary ramps on the lower level at the Baths are “disgraceful” and that he feared for his life when going them because of how steep they are.

In a video shared on Twitter earlier this week, O’Kelly attempted to use the temporarily installed ramps, but found it too difficult to do so independently.

“We’d been inundated with messages from peers, from those in the disability field, who had gone to see it who said you should see it yourself, so we did go. I actually couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was terrible,” O’Kelly told The Journal.

“To get to the main area, there’s three ramps. Three very steep ramps, and I couldn’t get up them, and I feared for my life going down them. I literally feared for my life going down them, because they were just so steep.”

O’Kelly, who lives in Dún Laoghaire, said there are signs on the ramps warning users of the incline, which read “steep slope” – something he said is “crazy”.

“They knew very well that they were building these, as I like to call them, wall-like ramps, because you may as well build walls, they are so steep,” he said.

“For anyone with buggies, elderly people, it’s just not accommodating at all. I mean, fair enough that the Council thought of inclusion and access, making it wheelchair accessible, but it’s beyond accessible. It’s not accessible at all.

It’s disgraceful. It’s actually just disgraceful.

The Dún Laoghaire Baths reopened in December after undergoing an €18 million refurbishment.

‘Not accessible for some’

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledged that the lower area of the refurbished Baths “is not accessible for some”.

“The recently opened Dún Laoghaire Baths represents the completion of the first phase of a larger project,” the spokesperson said.

They said that the original plan for the project includes the area that is now open, and also included upgraded walkways between the site and the old East Pier in Dún Laoghaire.

Due to the “complexity of the overall project”, it was divided into two phases, with the upgrading of the walkways being postponed to the second phase, the spokesperson said.

“Dividing the project into two phases has allowed some of the facilities to be opened to the public much faster than if the entire project had been developed as a single parcel of work, but with the drawback that the site isn’t currently as accessible for all as we would like it to be,” the spokesperson continued.

“The second phase already has planning permission, and tender documents are currently being prepared which will allow for construction of this part of the project to commence.

“The site that is now open consists of facilities at street level, mid-level and a lower level amphitheatre. The street level and the mid-level areas are fully accessible, and comply with Part M standards [which deal with accessibility]. The lower level is not fully accessible yet.

“A temporary ramp has been put in place to provide some level of access to this area, but the Council acknowledges that this ramp is steep in places, and that the lower level is not accessible for some.”

The spokesperson added that this will be rectified once the second phase of the project has been completed, and that the Council expect “to see contractors onsite working on this phase later in 2023″.

‘Not good enough’

Bernard Mulvany, another co-founder of Access For All who was with O’Kelly at the Baths, told The Journal that it is “not good enough”.

“We just can’t believe that in 2023, you would actually open a public amenity while at the same time, saying this is a public amenity, but it’s not accessible to everyone in the public,” Mulvany said.

“If you were to open a public amenity and say: ‘White people and Asian people can only use it and we have to wait another year or two before people of colour can use it’, society would close down, and rightly so.

“There would be murder. But it seems to be okay to be able to say: ‘We’re going to open it, but unfortunately if you have a disability or you’re a wheelchair user, we don’t think you’ll be able to use it just yet.’”

In a statement yesterday, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said: “It is unbelievably shocking and disappointing that this brand new, ‘state of the art’ public amenity could have been completed and opened formally when it is not accessible to many people.

“The Save Our Seafront campaign, which we spearheaded 17 years ago, was precisely to demand an amenity for all rather than the private redevelopment of this seaside site,” he said.

“It is unacceptable that many can now not use it and myself and Cllr Melisa Halpin have written today to the council looking for an explanation and an immediate plan to make the site accessible for all.”

People Before Profit Councillor Melisa Halpin added: “We cannot believe that this new public amenity, that we were all delighted to see reopen in December, now turns out to be inaccessible for those in our community with mobility difficulties.

“The redevelopment of this site took far too long, cost far too much money as a result of those delays, and now we have this incredibly serious issue.

“Myself and Deputy Boyd Barrett wrote to the chief executive this morning demanding an explanation and most importantly a plan for the remedial works. This amenity is not a public amenity until it is one for ALL the public.”

Speaking to The Journal, Fine Gael councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Lorraine Hall said: “I think a legitimate issue has been raised here about access.

“It will have to be reviewed by the Council and rectified so that the Baths are fully accessible to all,” she said, adding that some facilities should be put in place in the interim to ensure accessibility before work begins on the second phase of the project.

Local Social Democrats councillor Dave Quinn told The Journal that the lack of accessibility is “really disappointing”.

“It’s something that has to be addressed and fixed, because it’s not acceptable that there’s no access for people with limited mobility,” Quinn said.

He said the Council’s statement that work will begin on the amenity later this year is not good enough.”

“There’s a council meeting on Monday, and I’ve no doubt that this will be raised, certainly by me, and others, and we will hope to get some remedial action taken to make sure that people with limited mobility have full access to the facility.”

‘An insult’

Mulvany said a number of elderly people also approached him and O’Kelly to express their fear of having to navigate the ramps, particularly if they were wet or icy.

He said the Council’s response of having contractors working on the site later this year is “an insult to people with disabilities”.

Why is it even open when it’s not accessible to everyone? Why isn’t our priority to have it accessible from the beginning? That makes absolutely no sense.

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”.

O’Kelly said the Baths are “another place that wheelchair users can’t go”.

“It’s another place that we’re excluded from, and it’s built in modern day 2023 Ireland. Fair enough, it was previously built many years ago, but it’s brand new. It’s brand new, and yet it’s not accessible.”

He said he would like the Council to examine the ramps sooner than planned.

“It’s a serious issue. I’m unaware of how many people with disabilities are in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, but I know a good few of them, and we’re all excluded from a public amenity.

“It’s a matter of urgency. It really is. It can’t be later this year at all.”

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