Senator Daly calls for the recognition of Irish Sign Language

I support my colleagues in this motion.  There are 600,000 people with disabilities of one form or another in the country, and they should be protected in the best way possible.  That amounts to 18.5% of the population having some form of disability, and the manner in which the Government gives support is critical.  To clarify the matter for my learned friend opposite, mismanagement in the health services is an issue, with budgets going over every year since the current Government took office.  Extra funding is being sought for the running of the health service because the Minister, Deputy Reilly, has not been able to grapple with it or get on top of the brief, despite being in the Department for two and a half years.

People with special needs, those needing resource teachers and people with intellectual disabilities have all had services cut, with allowances reduced as well despite promises they would be protected.  There is the issue of the health services, its funding and the fact that it is unable to manage its budget, with continuous overruns.  That means the Minister is required to seek extra funding to pay for what are mostly wages.

We have cases in Kerry in which funding, instead of being given to people with Down’s syndrome and their families, is diverted to care providers and others for speech and physical therapy.  That is not cost-effective and does not work.  That funding is going to pay lighting, heating and administration costs, whereas all those people need is services, not all the ancillary items they are covering.

In light of the fact that this is Irish Sign Language awareness week and we have this motion before us, the Minister might make his Cabinet colleagues aware that we are in breach of international agreements to which we signed up, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Good Friday Agreement, regarding members of the deaf community and the fact that they are not given the same access to Government services as other citizens.

The Good Friday Agreement recognised Irish, Ulster Scots and Irish Sign Language as official languages.  We agreed, with the British Government, that these languages would get official recognition in the North and South.  While Irish Sign Language is recognised in the North of Ireland and policy has been put in place on the ground to implement it, here in the South there has been no implementation of it 15 years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.  I ask the Minister to make her Cabinet colleagues aware that it is a fundamental breach of international law and a disgraceful act for a government to sign up to an international agreement in good faith and then to blatantly ignore its provisions.

When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, interpreters had to be physically in the room.  With modern technology one can have online interpreters.  We can imagine how difficult it is for a member of the deaf community to explain his or her symptoms to a doctor.  Something lost in translation could have a detrimental effect on the outcome.  The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, gave us an excellent presentation on how unemployed people no longer have two-hour interviews in person, but do it over the phone.  For a member of the deaf community that is not a possibility.  Social welfare officers in offices around the country have computers.  An online interpreter engaged by appointment would allow members of the deaf community, many of whom are unlikely to get full-time employment and are therefore more likely to be in need of social welfare assistance, to engage with social welfare services.  Yet we have not put in place the infrastructure for them to do so and we continue to breach international agreements by failing to recognise Irish Sign Language.  I will introduce a Bill on this.  All parties have promised at various times to recognise Irish Sign Language. I will be delighted to support the motion, but I would hope that rather than supporting motions we support legislation.

I addressed that in my speech.  Activity should never be mistaken for action.  While we would be delighted to support any motion that is positive on Irish Sign Language, the legislation

Putting the Good Friday Agreement on a legislative basis would be far more productive for the members of the deaf community.

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