THE shameful practice of illegally parking in disabled bays has resulted in over 1,300 fines being issued to drivers in Donegal in the past four years.
Since 2015 Donegal County Council has dished out penalties worth €136,800 to motorists choosing to ignore the law and pulling into spots clearly designated for wheelchair users.
The figures were released ahead of Spina Bifida Awareness Day which was marked across Ireland on Friday.
Abuse of parking bays has been an emotive topic for years with repeated attempts by disability support groups to combat it. In answer to appeals for assistance from groups like the Irish Wheelchair Association, the Department of Transport announced in March last year that it was raising its fines from €80 to €150.
But in 2018 Donegal County Council still had to write tickets for 287 motorists. And this year already 226 drivers have been pulled for their illegal parking.
Letterkenny man and disability rights campaigner Frank Larkin has Spina Bifida and relies on disabled parking bays to allow him to go about his daily business.
He said the abuse of the specially-designated parking spaces was “constant” and “all day everyday”.
Figures provided to the Donegal News show that by far the highest number of tickets handed out has been in Letterkenny. Since 2015 almost 600 drivers have been hit in the pocket.
Second in the league when it comes to fines is Donegal Town (286) followed by Buncrana (201), Bundoran (122), Ballyshannon (82) and Ballybofey (62). But in Ramelton only a single motorist has been written up for abusing a disabled bay in the past four years.
Revealing what it is like for a wheelchair user on a daily basis, Frank Larkin said, “The figures do not surprise me in the slightest because I see it on a daily basis. And when I say a daily basis, I am not talking about once per day but all the time. It’s constant.
“For example, there are spaces at the Market Square but on any given day you could find a van delivering cash to the bank, you could find a lorry delivering goods to shops or it could just be a member of the public. It is right across the board.
“I remember some time back I drove down to go the post office. I ended up driving around the town five times before I gave up and went home. That was for a straight forward message to the post office but it could have been for a doctor’s appointment, a prescription, something vital.”
Mr Larkin said that when challenged motorists will often say they were only gone for a short while or that they will be “back in a minute”. But that minute can make all the difference to someone in need of a disabled space.
As to whether the authorities are doing enough to bring people to book, Frank Larkin believes they are doing what they can with the limited resources they have.
“Having spoken to the traffic wardens, it is clear that they are under-resourced. They are doing what they can but is enough being done, that is another question.
“I often get asked if there are enough disabled spaces. If they weren’t being abused then the answer to that question is straightforward, yes.”
Donegal County Council described access to parking was an “essential lifeline” for both disabled drivers and passengers.
“Accessible spaces are situated in convenient locations, close to shops, churches or banks and they are also larger than other parking spaces,” said a spokesperson.
“When accessible parking spaces are not available, motorists with disabilities may not be able to operate a passenger lift, open a door wide enough to enable transferring in and out of the vehicle, or get access to a mobility aid.
“Donegal County Council is keen to remind motorists that abusing designated disabled parking bays is just not acceptable.
“Donegal County Council’s Parking Section along with our traffic wardens take the issues that disabled drivers and passengers face
very seriously and are extremely proactive in pursuing these offences which can range from parking on a footpath, blocking a pedestrian way
and parking in a disabled bay without displaying a disabled badge.
Those who abuse disabled parking bays or disabled parking permits are regularly issued parking fines and every effort is made by the Council
to pursue those fines up to and including Court proceedings.
“We are urging all motorists to respect the Disabled Parking Bays in Donegal and to remind Disabled Parking Permit holders of the need to
respect the conditions attached to the permits.”