Waterford News & Star, Tuesday, 19 October 2021yar

Text of article: Wheelchair scheme proposed for Déise’s Blue Flag beaches by Darren Skelton

An idea that has been proposed more than once at Waterford City & county Council meetings is once again being pushed to the fore, by independent TD Matt Shanahan and former Councillor Blaise Hannigan.

     “Myself and Blaise, who is a well known community activist in Tramore and always has been, before and after local politics, have been reviewing accessibility to beach areas in the county when the problem of access for wheelchair users became apparent,” Deputy Shanahan said. “Wheelchairs that are not ‘purpose built’ have great difficulty in being rolled along sand and stony areas. It is almost impossible for the user or any person attending a user to bring a conventional chair safely onto the beach for the purpose of enjoying what so many of us take for granted – time spent close to the shore or on the beach. From looking at the problem and speaking to both wheelchair users and representative groups it became apparent there are already existing specified beach wheelchairs in place in some other coastal counties which are managed through the beach life-guards service.”

     “The Irish Wheelchair Association have been contacted and are supportive of such a programme in Waterford,” Deputy Shanahan said. “If the initiative was approved a first lot of wheelchairs could be designated for county blue flag beaches capable of navigating all of the main access areas for 2022.”

     The proposal would enable families to take responsibility for managing their users in the chairs, which would be available to reserve through a website booking. According to Deputy Shanahan, if the scheme were to prove popular, “further initiative might be developed to allow for hoist access for those with minimal mobility to access the beach.”

     “This would require dedicated and qualified healthcare personnel but there are chairs available internationally that allow wheelchair users to swim in the sea safely with attendants – what a wonderful gift a swim in the sea would be to somebody confined to a wheelchair,” Deputy Shanahan added.

     At this month’s Council Plenary Meeting, a number of councillors, notably fine Gael’s Lola O’Sullivan and Fianna Fáil’s Eamon Quinlan, took Deputy Shanahan to task, accusing him of not knowing that there already was a beach wheelchair in Tramore.

     “I think that Mr Shanahan has obviously taken his finger off the pulse and is not aware of what’s happening in Waterford,” Cllr O’Sullivan said. “I’m currently working with Waterford Sports Partnership and other agencies to provide a similar model to the one that’s currently operational in Tramore to other beaches such as Clonea and Bonmahon.”

     Following the Plenary Meeting, Blaise Hannigan contacted the Waterford News & Star to clarify that both himself and Deputy Shanahan were “aware and appreciative” of the work that the councillors have been doing to raise this issue, notably Cllrs O’Sullivan, Griffin and Quinlan, but that their intention was for a “dedicated beach wheelchair service for all of Waterford’s blue flag beaches.

     “Having a single adapted chair hidden in one beach area of the county is probably the reason that disability groups or even our own local authority don’t advertise the service,” Deputy Shanahan added. “Many wheelchair users are unaware of any Waterford service including the national representative wheelchair body.”

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