Opening Address by Mr. Ivor Callelly, T.D., Minister of State at a Department of Transport Seminar on Progress in Public Transport Accessibility The Irish Experience Dublin Castle Conference Centre 29 October 2004
I am delighted to be here to formally open this Seminar on Progress in Public Transport Accessibility The Irish Experience.
At the outset I want to welcome you all to this seminar. In particular, I want to extend a special welcome to the Members and Secretariat of the Working Group on Access and Inclusion of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport who held one of their regular working group meetings here in Dublin Castle yesterday. We are very happy that you chose Dublin as the venue for your meeting. I hope the meeting was successful and I am very glad that you are able to join us here today.
I would like to give a special welcome to the Chairman of today's Seminar Jack Short. As many of you will know Jack is also Secretary General of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport. It is a source of pride to us here in Ireland that the Secretary General of the ECMT is an Irishman. Jack has served with distinction in a number of posts in the ECMT and before that in the Irish public service. It is a particular pleasure to welcome him back to our shores and to acknowledge his success.
I had also been looking forward to welcoming Anne Frye of the UK Department of Transport who has chaired the Working Group on Access and Inclusion for a long time and is a recognised expert in the field of accessible transport throughout Europe and indeed further afield. However, I understand that Anne had to return home yesterday as her mother was taken ill suddenly. I know that everyone's thoughts are with Anne and that you will join with me in wishing her mother a full and speedy recovery.
I would also like to welcome here today the members of the Public Transport Accessibility Committee, which is the main consultative body that the Department of Transport engages with in relation to the development of accessible public transport. I welcome also representatives of other Government Departments, the National Disability Authority and finally Mr. Ian Humes who is here representing the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.
The role of the ECMT
Before I say a few words on the subject matter of today's seminar I want to speak a little on the role of the ECMT in the transport policy area and particularly with regard to transport accessibility.
The ECMT is now just over 50 years in existence and during that time it has made a major contribution to the development of surface transport in Europe. It is now comprised of 43 full member states right across Europe and seven associate members the non-European members of the OECD.
Throughout the half century of its existence the ECMT has produced quality research and facilitated the free exchange of ideas between Governmental officials as well as providing a forum where Ministers can discuss the critical transport policy issues of the day. It played a major part in preparing the accession states of central and Eastern Europe for the transition to EU membership, a process which reached a happy conclusion under the Irish EU Presidency last May.
The ECMT is to the forefront of practical policy work on improving accessibility to transport for the mobility and sensory impaired. It is a recognised leader in this field and I want to pay tribute to the work of the dedicated people in the Member States who are members of the Working Group on Access and Inclusion and of course the ECMT staff in the Paris based secretariat.
I am pleased to say that Ireland has increased its participation in the work of the ECMT in recent years. This particularly so in the accessibility area, with the hosting of the events this week being a practical demonstration of our commitment.
Public Transport Accessibility in Ireland
The theme of today's conference is progress in public transport accessibility the Irish experience. This is an area in which I, as Minister of State in the Department of Transport, have a particular interest as I now have specific Ministerial responsibility for this area of transport policy. In my Ministerial role I look forward to the challenges of improving and developing accessible transport systems over the coming years.
The availability and accessibility of transport is a fundamental requirement for accessing facilities and services. It is recognised that this is much more the case when the needs of people with mobility and sensory impairments are taken into account. For that reason, the accessibility of public transport has been identified as a core area to be developed in the Disability Strategy that was recently launched by the Government. As part of that strategy my Department has produced an Outline Plan for Accessible Public Transport Services over the coming years.
Among other things, the Plan details the Department's proposals in relation to the ongoing development of accessible public transport services for people with mobility and sensory impairments. The details of this Plan will be dealt with in one of the presentations that follow and so I won't elaborate on it right now.
What I would like to say about the Plan at this stage, is to emphasise that it is a draft consultation document. It is not the finished product. As Minister I am anxious to get as many views on the proposals contained in it as is possible. Therefore, I will welcome your comments on it either today or later when you have had more time to think about it. I can assure you that all your comments will be taken into consideration in finalising the Plan.
Major investment has been made in public transport in Ireland in recent years and along with it there has been major investment in improving public transport accessibility. Significant progress has been achieved, particularly over the past five years and I am sure that the seminar presentations today will reflect that progress. However, we are not resting on our laurels; much more remains to be done and I am very happy to play my part in working towards a fully accessible public transport system in Ireland.
I think that we would all acknowledge that having a safe, high quality and fully accessible public transport system is a necessary pre-condition for the development of a fully inclusive society in all its social and economic dimensions. I can assure all of you that the Minister for Transport and I will strive to further progress the attainment of that objective during our tenure.
The Department is delighted to host this seminar and I have great pleasure in opening it now. I hope that the presentations that follow will be informative and stimulating and that they will help advance the cause of accessible transport.