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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Written Answers. - Access for the Disabled.

Jimmy Deenihan


69 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if his Department will carry out a national audit on the adequacy of access to tourist facilities which were provided before the Building Regulations, 1991 were introduced in view of concern expressed by a number of tour operators in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21274/97]

I presume that this question follows the Deputy's question to me on 22 October last about adequacy of access to tourist facilities for visitors with a disability.

In line with the commitment of both the Government and the European Commission to improve the position of the socially disadvantaged, the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99, which is the main vehicle for tourism development in Ireland up to the end of this decade, includes provision for funding, where appropriate, for support to help meet the additional costs of providing suitable access-friendly facilities for the disabled when submitted to Bord Fáilte or Shannon Development as part of EU grant approved developments. In interdepartmental discussions aimed at ensuring consistency and complementarity between the tourism and other operational programmes, my Department has stressed the importance of improved access for disabled tourists.

All new buildings must comply with building regulations — introduced in 1991 by the Department of the Environment and Local Government — which state that people with disabilities must be catered for. These regulations contain provisions for people with disabilities in relation to access to, and circulation within, all new buildings and old buildings which are being renovated.

The industry has been circulated widely with a handbook specially prepared by the European Commission for the tourism industry on "Making Europe accessible for tourists with disabilities." Ultimately, of course, it is the industry itself which must adapt its facilities and product if it is to appeal to this market and avail of the sales opportunities which it offers.

The report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities makes a number of recommendations on the need to develop policy and practice in relation to the universal right of access to the built and external environments, which of course would include tourist facilities.
In this regard, the National Rehabilitation Board (NRB) is undertaking, via the county councils, a survey with the aim of drawing up an updated list of tourist amenities with access thereto for people with disabilities. The work of the NRB in relation to improving access for persons with disabilities involves it in ongoing contact with other appropriate Departments, national and local authorities and organisations, including those in the tourism sector.
Finally, I should also mention that Bord Fáilte and the regional tourism authorities make every effort to inform disabled tourists, through promotional literature and other means, of the suitability or otherwise of the full range of tourism facilities, including accommodation. Neither my Department nor Bord Fáilte is aware of any complaints from tour operators in this regard.
Against this background of increased awareness and action, my Department has not seen any need so far for an audit on the lines mentioned by the Deputy.