Access to Ross Castle in Killarney, Co Kerry, is limited to the ground floor for people with disabilities and only by prior appointment.
The visitor amenity is also exempted under the Disability Act from having to make certain facilities available for wheelchair users.
Minister of State for public expenditure and reform Simon Harris recently said that it was not possible to make the site more accessible to wheelchair users without interfering with the fabric of the 15th century structure.
However, Tom Doherty, a Killarney man who has been seeking better facilities for people with a wide range of disabilities for many years, believes more could be done for such people in lakeside Ross Castle.
“I can understand how there could be difficulties with such an old building, but I can’t see how, with some bit of imagination, some changes could not be made without compromising its integrity,” he said.
Under the 2005 Act, there an obligation on all public bodies to make buildings accessible to everyone, he added.
“Statistics show that one person in eight has some disability, so many people are being denied the enjoyment of one of Killarney’s main attractions,” he said.
Mr Doherty said that during his time as a town councillor he had called for a sensory garden to be included in a €7m restoration programme taking place in Killarney House and Gardens and the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht is making the facility disability-friendly.
“I believe the Office of Public Works should now stand up and do likewise, but there’s a problem when it comes to co-ordination between government departments,” he stated.
Panoramic views of Killarney’s lakes, mountains and woodland can be seen from the upper floors of Ross Castle, which is visited by about 25,000 people annually.
Kerry Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin raised the issue in the Dáil and requested the castle be made more accessible for wheelchair users.
Mr Harris replied that due to the castle’s age and, with original features retained, it was a very restricted site.
Access to the upper levels is by way of a spiral staircase set into a very narrow stairwell.
Due to health and safety concerns, access to upper levels is by guided tour only with a maximum of 15 people per tour.
Mr Harris said that, while recognising his office’s responsibilities under the Disability Act to make all sites accessible to people with disabilities, as far as is practicable, Ross Castle was exempt under Section 29 of the Act.
“While every effort is made generally to provide for maximum access, it is not possible to make the site more accessible to wheelchair users without interfering with the fabric of the structure,” he said.
On a positive note, the minister told Mr Griffin that toilets at Ross Castle are to be upgraded during the winter and work should be completed before the site re-opens next season.