01 Dec 2021

Donegal woman's anger at being abandoned on train - 'They don't care about people with disabilities'

Iarnrod Eireann tells “We sincerely apologise to the customer whose assistance was delayed"

Donegal woman's anger at being abandoned on train - "They don't care about people with disabilities

A Donegal woman who uses a wheelchair is angry and upset after being left sitting on a train in Dublin’s Connolly Station, unable to disembark. 

This was despite her having booked the required assistance in advance.

Vicky Matthew from Ballyshannon travelled from Sligo to Dublin by train on Friday to take part in a wheelchair basketball coaching course run by the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). No stranger to using public transport, she took all the necessary measures to ensure assistance on her arrival.

“I booked the train by phone the day before so I could be sure of getting a wheelchair seat for myself, and a seat for my carer,” she said.

“They state that you need to book station assistance at least four hours before departure. I booked it the day before when I was booking my seat. I got an email confirming my booking, my carer - who is my mother - wasn’t seated beside me. I phoned back and they said it was an issue with the booking system, and she could sit beside me.

“I checked again at that stage to make sure that there would be a ramp and someone to assist at Connolly Station. Again, I was assured that there would be.”

However, when Ms Matthew got to the station, no-one came to assist. She called the station from the train to tell them.  

“No-one came to help,” she said. “I was just left there, abandoned.”

A mother with two young children who was in the carriage said to me, ‘I’m really sorry this is happening to you.’

She left with her children. Next thing, my mother said, ‘You have to see this.’

“The woman was coming up the platform with a ramp. Her young son was pushing the pushchair with her other child. Only for her, I don’t know how long I would have had to wait. I am so grateful to her, but she shouldn’t have had to do that.”

Furthermore, Ms Matthew discovered on her return to Sligo that the man who had assisted her on her departure had also telephoned Connolly Station to request assistance for her  on her arrival in Dublin.

Unfortunately, the appalling treatment of Ms Matthew did not end there. 

“I went to the Customer Service desk to lodge a complaint,” she said. “The man there really wasn’t nice about it. He told me that the person who assists people was helping two visually impaired people. He couldn’t get rid of me quick enough.

Ongoing Problem

Ms Matthew points out that had she got a phone call or email to say someone would be along shortly to assist, she wouldn’t have minded.

“But to be just left sitting there, abandoned, that is really not good enough,” she said.

“I am vocal, I would have called the guards to come and get me if I had to. But a lot of people are not loud, or just don’t have the energy to fight, and they shouldn’t have to.

“This is a continuous problem. Iarnrod Eireann have a document on their website talking about all the things they do to help people with disabilities. But it is not like that in reality. 

“They don’t care about us. They don’t care about people with disabilities.”

This was not Ms Matthew’s first time to experience the same problem.

“It happened before in 2019,” she said. “Four young lads lifted me off the train.

“The difference at that time was that when I went to Customer Service, they were very apologetic. This time, the man was really unhelpful and couldn’t wait to get rid of me.”

Ms Matthew has long been a campaigner for improved access on public transport. In fact, she represented the IWA on a committee that advised Iarnrod Eireann on making trains accessible for people with disabilities.

She was also successful in her campaign to have more wheelchair accessible buses. However, there are only a limited number of them in service. 

Her evident frustration at the challenges faced by people with disabilities trying to access public transport is well founded.

“They talk about all these plans to get people with disabilities moving, to get us doing physical activities, to get people with disabilities into education, to get people with disabilities into work.

“How can people with disabilities do all those things if they can’t get on and off public transport?

“Imagine if you are a parent of a child with a disability, and you have to worry about whether they  will ever be able to travel independently.”

Ms Matthew is appealing to public representatives and public transport providers to deal with this problem once and for all.

“We could organise a protest if we really had to; I could have 100 wheelchair users on the platform at Connolly Station. But I have a busy life, I am at college, other people with disabilities have busy lives too, just like everyone else. We shouldn’t have to use all our time and energy to fight for something that is really quite simple when it comes down to it.

“I am putting it out there and publicly asking: ‘Can the people who are supposed to represent us please fight for us?’

“We are tired of fighting for this. It is not a lot to ask.”

Ms Matthew believes that there is a solution that wouldn’t even require a member of staff to assist.

“You could have carriages where you can press a button and the ramp comes out, like on the buses,” she said. “That would be even easier.”

Ms Matthew hopes that by highlighting this upsetting and demeaning experience, it will help improve services for the many wheelchair users and people with disabilities in Donegal and across Ireland.

Apology Issued

A spokesperson from Iarnrod Eireann told the Donegal Democrat/ “We sincerely apologise to the customer whose assistance was delayed on Friday last.  She had indeed booked the assistance in advance – unfortunately, there was a delay in arriving to this train as two staff members were providing assistance to two visually impaired customers to board a separate service.  

“We understand the inconvenience and disruption this caused, and are disappointed as we pride ourselves on ensuring that all booked assistance is delivered. We hope this experience does not deter this customer from travelling with us in the future.”

To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.