The first accessibility centre for water sports on the island of Ireland, the Lough Ree Access For All centre was formally opened today by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD after the project received national honours in the Pride of Place awards for its contribution towards equality.
The new centre, funded by the Government’s ‘Just Transition fund’ for the midlands and parcel delivery company DPD Ireland, will operate at the base of the award-winning Lough Ree Access For All boat at Lanesboro Ballyleague on the Longford Roscommon border and will offer people with physical and intellectual disabilities from all over the country the opportunity to enjoy sports such as angling, power boating, and sailing – without restrictions.
New facilities installed in the building include a state-of-the-art changing places suite.
The social enterprise is the only provider of a licenced passenger boat service for people with disability in Ireland or the UK.
Caption: Centre director Dorothy Coyle, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and centre employee Mark McClean at the official opening of the Lough Ree Access For All accessibility water-sports centre
The boat is designed to allow full access for wheelchair users and others onto the river Shannon through the use of a collapsing bow. Up to this point wheelchair users could not access a licenced boat service without being hoisted or lifted by a third party.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, who officially opened the centre today, said, “I am delighted to officially open the new premises for Lough Ree Access For All accessibility water-sports centre today. People with disabilities have already significantly benefitted from this great initiative, with over three thousand people visiting last year alone. This centre will be of huge benefit to the local community, but also to people from all over the country who wish to take part in water sports, for future generations to come.”
The national accessibility centre employs nine people including Mark McClean, a young Longford man who was paralysed after a very serious road accident.
He commented, “People with disability have historically been discriminated against in boat transport services. In the past, I applied for different jobs but me being in a wheelchair was an obstacle. I got to a point where I was just going to give up, but when I saw this job opening I jumped at the opportunity and thankfully I was successful. It is my dream job.”
Caption: DPD Ireland chief executive Des Travers, centre employee Mark McClean, and centre director Dorothy Coyle and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD at the official opening of the Lough Ree Access For All accessibility water-sports centre
The creation of new jobs for people with disability was assisted by parcel delivery company DPD Ireland.
Chief Executive, Des Travers said, “Our involvement in the initiative has been one of the most fulfilling charitable investments we have made as a company. It is heart-warming to see the rewards that people with disabilities reap by visiting the centre, and for the staff that we have assisted in employment. We are delighted to be involved and pledge our ongoing support.”
The baseline motivation for this project was to provide equality to people with disability who had been barred from sailing on boats of this nature up to now.
Lough Ree Access for All director and volunteer Ciaran Mullooly added, “This project was established after three years of research into a boat design to allow wheelchair users to come on board. In collaboration with Roscommon Leader Partnership, Waterways Ireland, Roscommon County Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland the HSE CH02 regional disability team, a design that allows wheelchair users enter the boat easily as the bow lowers was conceived – to ensure nobody with disability was left behind.”
Lough Ree Access For All is best known to viewers on the National Lottery TV advertisements for their victory in the National Good Causes awards in 2021.
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