Senator Mark Wall
It is good to see Senator Moynihan in the Chair. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The reason I have asked him to come before the House is the urgent need to change the building regulations to make it mandatory to include what are called Changing Places toilet facilities rather than the current standard accessible toilets in public buildings. In Ireland there are estimated to be only 15 Changing Places toilet facilities. There are over 1,500 in England, I am told, and recently the UK introduced legislation which will make Changing Places toilet facilities mandatory in new public buildings from 2021. Across the Border, there are 40 in Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Assembly has given a commitment to amend its regulations. An online campaign by Changing Places is ongoing, with more than 7,000 signatories asking the Irish Government to change the building regulations to ensure that Changing Places toilet facilities are mandatory in all new public buildings.
This is simply a quality of life issue for families whose loved ones need changing or assistance with very basic human needs. I am aware of a number of families who simply cannot use the current facilities on offer in this country. Their children, their loved ones, have grown into young adults and adults, and the small baby tables currently in these facilities are simply not good enough. These families are left having to change their children in the back of their cars or on the cold floors of what changing rooms they can find. These families cannot plan day-to-day family events that most of us take for granted, such as going out on family trips to the shops, the cinema or other attractions that families visit together and enjoy so much. It is not possible for them to plan such family events because they know their loved ones will need changing and the care that comes with their medical condition and there are no facilities on the way or near the attractions and locations that they as a family can use. It is simply not good enough that we lack these facilities in our country. We are so far behind other countries that we have an awful lot of catching up to do.
I am aware that the Minister of State and the Department are actively looking at setting up a working group to progress this matter. I hope the Minister of State can update us today on the Department’s commitment on this important matter and the progress that has been made with the working group.
I am also aware that a number of local authorities are building or have very recently built such Changing Places toilet facilities. My colleague, Councillor George Lawlor, was involved in this with the access officer of Wexford County Council. That local authority built a fully accessible Changing Places facility, with consultation from Changing Places, in a new park in Wexford for less than €50,000. This, I am sure the Minister will agree, is a great step forward and I hope it will be replicated in other areas and when parks and playgrounds are being planned in future.
This issue directly affects the quality of life of so many families. It prevents them from planning the days out that many of us still hold dear. We treasure the family memories made on such occasions. Changing in the back seat of a car should belong to a bygone era and changing on the cold floor of a small changing room should be a distant memory. It is time we gave these young children and adults back their dignity and met their needs, desires and wishes in all public buildings. I look forward to the Minister of State’s reply and assure him of my support and the support of the families who most need these changes and who have contacted me. We all look forward to a positive reply on what is a very important matter.
Deputy Malcolm Noonan
I thank Senator Wall for raising this important issue. It has been raised in the Dáil by my colleague, Deputy Steven Matthews, as well. I also thank the campaign group, Changing Places, for the work it has been doing on this.
The purpose of the building regulations is primarily to protect the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings. While both codes deal with the built environment, they have interrelated but separate roles.
As matters currently stand, new buildings and extensions or material alterations to existing buildings must comply with the legal minimum performance standards set out in the building regulations of 1997 to 2019. In this context, the Building Regulations (Part M Amendment) Regulations 2010, and the accompanying Technical Guidance Document – Access and Use (2010), which came into effect on 1 January 2012, set out the minimum statutory requirements a building must achieve in respect of access.
On the Senator’s specific query, my Department proposes to establish a working group to examine the inclusion of a provision relating to a changing places facility, commonly known as a changing places toilet, in Part M, technical guidance document M, of the second schedule of the building regulations.
In this regard, my Department has recently written to a number of relevant stakeholders to invite their organisations to participate in the working group. The terms of reference for the working group include assisting in the preparation of draft documentation for public consultation, which will include an examination of costs and preparation of a regulatory impact analysis. The working group will then review submissions received after a public consultation and will support the finalisation of a revised draft Part M, technical guidance document M. It is proposed hold an initial introductory meeting of the working group next week.
Part M aims to ensure that regardless of a person’s age, size or disability, new buildings other than dwellings are accessible and usable; extensions to existing buildings other than dwellings are, where practicable, accessible and useable; material alterations to existing buildings other than dwellings increase the accessibility and usability of existing buildings, where practicable; certain changes of use to existing buildings other than dwellings increase the accessibility and usability of existing buildings where practicable; and new dwellings are visitable.
Part M of the building regulations aims to foster an inclusive approach to the design and construction of the built environment. While the Part M requirements may be regarded as a statutory minimum level of provision, the accompanying technical guidance encourages building owners and designers to have regard to the design philosophy of universal design and to consider making additional provisions where practicable and appropriate.
Guidance on how to design, build and manage buildings and spaces so that they can be readily accessed and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability is available in “Building for Everyone, A Universal Design Approach”, a National Disability Authority publication.
Senator Mark Wall
I welcome the Minister of State’s reply, which represents a very important step forward. Having an introductory meeting next week is very positive. As I said in my introduction, we are behind the curve on the number of changing facilities we have, and we have a considerable amount of catching up to do. I welcome the Minister of State’s commitment to this. For quality of life it is vital that we have as many changing places and toilet facilities as possible throughout the country. I also ask the Minister of State to consider putting changing places and toilet facilities in local authority parks and close to playgrounds. We have seen an important step forward in Wexford. It would be very welcome if that could be replicated throughout the country.