The Northern Ireland Roads Service is under increasing pressure to withdraw a parking ticket issued to a blood donation van outside a donation centre.
Outraged donors and politicians have challenged the parking fine which was imposed by a traffic warden in Downpatrick as Blood Transfusion staff collected donations.
While staff were in the centre on Monday evening they overran a one-hour parking restriction and their van was slapped with a ticket.
They had been parking in the same spot every four months for 15 years without incident, while they used the adjacent church hall in Church Avenue where there is very limited parking.
“I think this is completely outrageous and I am challenging it with the Department for Regional Development. The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service provides a very important service,” said South Down MLA John McCallister (below).
The UUP man added: “Where will it all stop? Will they be issuing fines to the Ambulance Service, Fire Service or police even if they have a legitimate reason to park their vehicles there?”
A similar row erupted in Carrickfergus earlier this year when a Blood Transfusion van was issued with a parking ticket outside a donation centre. The ticket was later withdrawn in the midst of public criticism.
NSL, the parking authority in charge of traffic wardens, has refused to back down in the most recent row, stating that such vehicles do not have any dispensation under the legislation to park in contravention of parking restrictions.
“It is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service to ensure that their vehicles park legally,” a spokeswoman for NSL added.
But the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service said it remained hopeful that the issue could be resolved with the Department for Regional Development’s Roads Service division.
“If a vehicle is parked illegally we cannot really complain. We could not be in a position where we criticise somebody for doing their job. However, we have spoken to the DRD and are hopeful we can resolve this,” said Paul McElkerney from the NIBTS.
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said the DRD should withdraw the parking ticket immediately. “It is totally unfortunate and unfair that this has happened. They are providing vital services in the area and have been parking in that spot for 15 years.
“There are cases which I believe have exceptional circumstances and therefore discretion should be used. This is one of those cases. NIBTS should challenge this and I back them 100%,” Ms Ritchie added.
DRD Roads Service said: “Anyone who receives a penalty charge notice has the opportunity to make a challenge if they feel it has been unjustly issued.
“Any challenge must be done in writing and details are given on the back of the notice.”
You’re 40 times more likely to get parking penalty than be punished by your council for dropping litter
By Linda Stewart
Almost 40 times as many parking tickets as fines for littering are being handed out in Northern Ireland’s towns and cities.
Ulster Unionist environment spokesman Tom Elliott says it seems those who illegally dispose of litter can do so “without great fear of detection or penalty” and it has become a postcode lottery whether councils enforce littering laws.
Northern Ireland’s councils are spending £40m a year on clearing up litter, yet many are imposing only a handful of fines on offenders.
In 2011/12, 124,976 parking tickets were handed out across Northern Ireland, but councils issued only 3,268 littering penalties.
Dungannon and South Tyrone was bottom of the league, issuing only one littering fine in the entire financial year, while 2,528 parking tickets were handed out in the area.
Ballymoney, Limavady and North Down councils each issued four litter fines.
Belfast City Council has made the most prolific use of the legislation, issuing 1,534 litter fines. Meanwhile, Craigavon issued 1,046 litter fines, while 3,841 parking tickets were issued in the area.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said he would like councils to explain the disparity in fines.
“Councils need to be more proactive in dealing with this problem,” he said.
“The figures for issuing fines are different from council to council and I would like them to explain why these are so.”
Mr Elliott said he was pleased that the minister is looking into the disparity and said the figures suggest it is a postcode lottery on how councils are implementing strong anti-littering laws.
“I would implore each council to adopt a zero tolerance on litter and use the strong powers which they have been given and keep our towns and cities free of unsightly rubbish. We require the same vigilance for litter as parking in our towns.”
A spokesman for Tidy Northern Ireland said: “It’s a cruel fact that in some parts of the country you are much more likely to be caught littering, with zero tolerance in some areas but almost zero chance of being caught in others.”