Galway is recognised across the world for the welcome it extends to visitors. Indeed, as far away as New Zealand it was named among 'one of the five great cities to visit' back in 2014. This is some accolade when you consider our small city, which many regard as a big town, is competing with the major European hotspots such as London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona.
Last Saturday Stella Owens and her three children decided to take a trip into the city centre for lunch as a treat on the request of her 15-year-old son. Travelling is a little more difficult as the boy is quadriplegic and the family must pick and choose their destinations carefully to ensure they are wheelchair accessible. The family decided on the bar/restaurant, Dock No 1 (previously Sheridans on the Docks ) which is adjacent to ample street-side parking and therefore easily accessible by wheelchair.
Stella explains that her son has a power chair, which is a battery operated wheelchair. "It weighs a ton and is quite difficult to manoeuvre." The disabled space was occupied so the family parked in another available space close to the restaurant, clearly displaying their disabled pass. No sooner had they crossed the street and entered the restaurant when they witnessed a clamper going about his business with zeal.
Stella and her husband ran across to explain their situation and the reason they needed to park in close proximity to the restaurant. The clamper, who works for Precision Parking which is based on Dominick Street, pointed out the vehicle was parked illegally without a pay and display permit on private property. The couple alluded to their disabled parking permit and appealed to the clamper to exercise some compassion, but unfortunately their pleas fell on deaf ears, and they were fined €80 for not having a valid parking ticket on display.
Speaking to the Galway Advertiser in the aftermath of the incident Stella Owens was understandably upset. "If you look in the back of our vehicle you can clearly see the wheelchair ramp, the sticker in the back window and the disabled pass. Our son was sitting in the restaurant watching this scene unfold and he was quite distressed."
Stella has appealed the fine but has been told by the company that it will not refund her money. "While I acknowledge that our vehicle was parked in an area marked private parking, the sign also says 'Permit/Pay and Display'. We were convinced therefore that we could park in that space given that we had a disabled parking permit."
She also refers to the provisions of the forthcoming Vehicle Clamping Act 2015 which prohibits clamping on a vehicle which displays a parking permit. "While this Act has yet to be come into law I thought that the clamping company -in the spirit of the act - show some humanity and common sense."
However there was one strong example of Galway's true welcoming spirit on display on Saturday. "When we went to pay the bill in the restaurant, we were told that our lunch was on the house. The restaurant staff had witnessed what had happened to us with the clamper and told us they wanted to 'put things right'. I think it was an amazing gesture. They were just trying to right a wrong out of the goodness of their heart and we are very grateful."
+In a reply to the appeal Precision Parking has refused to issue a refund but say 'as a gesture of goodwill, we will today make a donation of € 80 to the Laura Lynn Foundation, Leopardstown, Dublin.'