The National Deaf Advocacy Service of the Irish Deaf Society has closed in response to their refusal of funding from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
The Irish Deaf Society’s (IDS) National Advocacy Service for Deaf people has closed its office with full loss of staff following yesterday’s announcement by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government that their funding will be discontinued with immediate effect. The announcement puts a halt to 11 years of services for the Deaf population of Ireland with an estimated 5,000 people affected.
The IDS is Ireland’s national representative group for Deaf people of whom their Advocacy Service is their main branch of work. Its closure leaves a gaping hole in services which sought to bridge a socio-economic divide between Deaf people and their hearing counterparts. Citing poor employment and salary prospects, low participation in 3rd level Education, and lower health expectancy, the IDS identified the Deaf population as a marginalised, socially isolated, and discriminated against minority group. The IDS’ Advocacy Service worked to provide access for Deaf people to public services, education, healthcare and the means to employment. The service’s closure puts the Deaf community at further risk of social and economic isolation and a decline in living standards.
The unique Advocacy Service is the only service that is fully accessible through ISL as a priority, with all staff possessing fluency of the language. “We are absolutely stunned by this outcome”, said IDS CEO Eddie Redmond. “We are seriously concerned for the welfare of Deaf community members, many of whom have come to depend on the advocacy service as the only viable service for them, with other services inaccessible due to Irish Sign Language (ISL) being their first and in some case only language.”
“Many members will find it difficult and frustrating to access public services where no ISL interpreter is available”, added Mr. Redmond. “Add to it that 80% of Deaf adults have literacy levels akin to those of 8 to 9 year olds compared with 25% of the general population, and you have a serious case of social exclusion with no means of remedy”.
The closure of the Advocacy Service adds to the decision made earlier this year by the Labour/ FG Coalition Government, through Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, to rule out any possibility that Irish Sign Language would be recognised as an official language. She outlined her decision on the premise that services for Deaf people needed to be provided first before ISL could be recognised.
The IDS are currently appealing the decision through Pobal on behalf of the Department.