By Laura Lynott
A FORMER BBC radio presenter says disability hate in Ireland has increased dramatically since the economic crash.
John McFarlane, a disability campaigner, who’s a wheelchair user, said he was once even told to “Go back to the UK,” as he was parking his car.
John, a former BBC Radio presenter in the UK, who now lives in Mount Lucas, Co Offaly, said: “More disabled people are being harassed in the past 10 years in Ireland – and there’s been a notable increase since the economic crash in 2008.
The 68-year-old said parking was a particular problem for many disabled people in Ireland.
I think people feel the pressure is on financially and some have a sense of ‘they’re getting parking for free, why can’t I get the same privileges? ‘Why can’t I park without penalties just like a disabled person can?’
John had parked his large Volvo estate car in a public car park and another driver hit his door and dented the vehicle.
“The man said, ‘Disabled people like you shouldn’t have posh cars,’ and walked off.
“It was €350 euro to get it fixed and I’m fortunate I had a successful business career to be able to afford that.
“I’m not rich like Michael O’Leary but I can afford the vehicles I want but a lot of disabled people scrimp and save and then their cars get thumped hit or scraped.”
John, the president of the European Polio Union, is along with the Disabled Drivers Association, calling for fines of €80 to be increased to €160 or €200 for anyone who uses a disabled parking space to clamp down on those who abuse a disabled driver, damage their vehicle or take a disabled parking space.
In certain states in America the fine for the misuse of a disabled parking space has gone up from 50 dollars to 400.
“That has cured the problem and they had a way of enforcing it,” John said.
John said he had experienced drivers also parking too close to his door blocking him from getting back in to the vehicle or simply taking up half of a disabled space to even stop him parking there.
John was parking in the car park of a well known supermarket when he was also abused for being English.
This driver told me I shouldn’t be parked there and to go away, to go back to the UK.
John became disabled after suffering polio as a small child in London, but he has never let disability hold him back.
He has presented a show on BBC Radio 4 and regional BBC TV in the UK and been a boss in numerous top companies.
And he is taking the fight for disabled people to Stormont in Northern Ireland next month to campaign for a cross border disability initiative.
But he feels there is much education that needs to take place for people to understand that it is not acceptable to be abusive to disabled people.
“One in three disabled parking spaces in Ireland is abused – people are parking in them who shouldn’t be and abusing people who are disabled parking in them,” John said.
“And there has been an increase in the abuse of disabled people in Ireland.
“Half a million people are physically disabled in Ireland. Of that, 10 per cent will use wheelchairs and less than 15 per cent will use a wheelchair permanently.
“One in five under of the under 50s will have a disability by time they reach 50. Those are the people who will need parking badges.
“My message is think of your own future. It could be you that will be that person in that wheelchair one day. Think how you’d feel.”
For more information on driving with a disability log on to http://www.ddai.ie/
And for information on polio log on to http://www.europeanpolio.eu