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Snippet Contents:

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for being here to answer these questions. I request that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government carry out a review to examine amending the building regulations to include the mandatory installation of adequate toilet facilities for disabled people and their carers, known as changing places facilities. The Minister will know that while Part M of the building regulations states that new buildings must include standard wheelchair accessible toilet facilities, they do not allow for more severely disabled adults and teens, who may require incontinence pad changing facilities, a larger square metreage floor area to allow for carers and the use of a hoist. The campaign group Changing Places has established a template for a changing facility that allows equity of access to all. These are accessible for those who need carer support for sanitary and toilet use. Changing places rooms have a higher ceiling to allow for a hoist, a larger floor space to accommodate carers, a centralised toilet to allow for carer support and, vitally, a height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench. At the moment, there are just 15 changing places facilities in the Republic of Ireland.
To put this in context, I will tell the Minister of State about Sophia. I have her family's permission to highlight her situation in the Dáil this evening. Sophia is a wonderful young woman. She is 13 years of age and loves her dog, her brother, her sister and eating ice cream. Sophia also has cerebral palsy and arthrogryposis and has had surgery for scoliosis. She is non-verbal and requires an adult-sized changing bench for toilet use. Recently, Sophia and her family visited me in Bray and when I asked where the nearest changing places facility was, her father Aaron told me there were none available in the entire county of Wicklow, and Wicklow is not unique in this regard. Many parents have experienced the frustration of seeking baby changing facilities, only to find they are not available. Usually, with a small baby one can make do. This is not the case for people with certain disabilities. In Sophia's case, every trip and visit is planned with an adequate toilet facility in mind and there are only 15 such facilities in the country. Very often, her father told me, they do not bother going anywhere at all because of the lack of access to these facilities. I believe every person should have access to adequate bathroom facilities. It is neither reasonable nor acceptable to expect people like Sophia to make do, when making do involves a complete loss of dignity. Her parents must attempt to change her in the back of their van or limit their trips to one of a handful of locations that can accommodate her needs.
Recently, the UK Government announced that changes would be made to legislation to install compulsory changing places in new public buildings, such as shopping centres, art galleries, sports stadiums, libraries or larger public buildings from 2021. I believe we should now examine changing the building regulations to ensure planning applications for suitable public buildings include a changing places toilet facility. As we learn to live with Covid, we must be mindful of the vulnerable, who will look to this Government to act for them in ensuring their dignity, safety and well-being. I hope the Minister of State and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will work with me to meet the campaigners in Changing Places, who comprise representatives from many disability advocacy groups, and listen to them to ensure young women like Sophia can go about their day with the dignity they deserve. I thank the Minister of State.