Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Irish Sign Language

4:05 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this question this evening and welcome the opportunity to address the House on the issue.

Irish Sign Language is a matter of significant importance to me. I will put on the record that I met with families and with ISL interpreters. I have engaged with users of ISL and know how important it is to them that they can use ISL when accessing key services. There are an estimated 5,000 deaf people in Ireland. An additional 40,000 people rely on ISL to communicate.

The Irish Sign Language Act was signed into law in December 2017 with the aim of addressing the extreme marginalisation of sign language users. The Minister, Deputy O' Gorman, and I jointly signed the commencement order for the Irish Sign Language Act on 23December 2020. Through the Act, Ireland recognises ISL to be a native language of the State and users of ISL have the right to develop and preserve it as their native language.

The Act places a statutory duty on all public bodies to provide ISL users with free interpretation when accessing statutory entitlements and services. The Act also creates specific obligations with regard to areas such as the accreditation of ISL translators; the use of ISL in legal proceeding; the provision of ISL in education; guiding principles regarding programming and broadcasting; and provisions to allow for ISL access to social, educational and current affairs. Nowhere was this seen better than when ISL was used at every one of our briefings throughout the whole pandemic.

In assessing our progress against the requirements of the Act, we must be realistic, honest and ambitious for our ISL using citizens. We must also recognise the scale of the challenge in providing the supports required and the systemic change they represent. We must be honest about where we have made progress, where we need to keep doing better work and where we have done nothing. I ask every Department to look at themselves now because observations have been sent out. I ask them to be honest and truthful. It is three years since 2017. The various Departments and public bodies have had three years to make good on what the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and I signed into law in December 2020.

Implementing the Irish Sign Language Act requires a whole-of-government approach. As such, all public bodies have obligations to fulfil. To monitor the implementation of the Act, as required under section 10, my Department this year arranged for a report on the operation of the Act to be prepared. The National Disability Authority, NDA, was commissioned to produce the report and the NDA has submitted a draft to me. The report is based on the views and experiences of stakeholders, the lived experiences of ISL users and survey responses from public bodies.

Let us be very clear. It was my ambition to have that report produced approximately three to four weeks ago. It was also my ambition to have it form part of the NDA annual general meeting, AGM. Unfortunately, it has gone out to the various Departments for observations. It is regrettable that I am still waiting on the observations from those Departments to come back in. It is remiss of them to be so slow in facilitating their return.


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