An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar officially opened the first accessibility centre for watersports in Ireland at the Lough Ree Access For All facility in Ballyleague on Friday last.
The new centre is funded by the Just Transition fund and parcel delivery company DPD. It operates at the headquarters of the award-winning Lough Ree Access For All boat and offers people with physical and intellectual disabilities the opportunity to take part in sports such as angling, sailing and power boating.
New facilities installed at the site include a state-of-the-art Changing Places suite for those with disabilities.
Lough Ree Access For All is the only provider of a licenced passenger boat service for people with a disability in Ireland and the UK. The boat, which has featured on a National Lottery advertisement and earned a Pride of Place award, is designed to allow full access for wheelchair users and others onto the River Shannon.
Speaking at Friday’s official opening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the centre would benefit people from all over Ireland.
“I am delighted to officially open the new premises for Lough Ree Access For All accessibility watersports centre today,” he said.
“People with disabilities have already significantly benefitted from this great initiative, with over 3,000 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 following a serious road accident in 2014 (see Roscommon People issue dated February 2nd).
Mark said he was delighted to be working at Lough Ree Access For All.
“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,” he said.
Parcel delivery company DPD has assisted in the creation of new jobs through the Lough Ree Access For All initiative.
DPD Chief Executive Des Travers told those present that the company’s involvement with the social initiative was “one of the most fulfilling charitable investments we have made as a company”.
“It is heartwarming 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,” he said.
Lough Ree Access For All director and volunteer Ciaran Mullooly said the project had been established following three years of research into a boat design that would facilitate wheelchair users.
“In collaboration with Roscommon LEADER Partnership, Waterways Ireland, Roscommon County Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland, and the HSE’s 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,” he explained.
As part of Friday’s official opening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took a trip on the Lough Ree Access For All boat with centre director Dorothy Coyle, staff member Mark McClean and other invited guests.