Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages

SECTION 1

Amendments Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, and 12 to 17, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

" "Irish Sign Language” means the sign language used by the majority of the deaf community in the State;".

In addition to the substantive amendment before us, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised that a number of technical amendments need to be made to the Bill as passed by the Seanad. Amendment No. 1 involves the reinsertion of a concise definition of Irish sign language into the Bill. The Office of the Attorney General has advised me that this would be a useful inclusion in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, 7 and 9 update the reference to the Companies Act and make typographical changes in sections 1, 2 and 5.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 14 move a regulation-making power adding new public bodies from section 2, which concerns definitions, to a substantive section, which is section 6. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel advises that this is the proper approach to the creation of a regulation-making power rather than having it in a definition section.

Amendment No. 12 tightens up the wording of section 6(1) to ensure that all services provided by a public body are covered by the Bill. Amendment No. 13 is a technical recasting of section 6(3) which concerns the regulation of notification to be given by a user of Irish Sign Language seeking to avail of free interpretation services and ancillary matters. Amendment No. 16 is an internal reorganisation of section 9, which concerns review of the Act, essentially renumbering the various clauses that follow subsection (1). Amendment No. 17 changes the name of the Bill to the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 as a crisper and more user-friendly Short Title.

I welcome the amendments as tabled. As the Minister of State indicated, they are technical. They do not in any way divert the propositions at the core of the Bill from their intended course so I accept them.

I agree with the amendments. I congratulate the Minister of State on accepting the Bill and Senator Mark Daly on his good work in the Seanad. It will make a huge difference to many people and well done to everyone who has turned out here tonight. I see neighbours of mine and I want to give them a special mention. It is great to see, particularly at Christmas time, that for once, we are all doing something together in the Dáil and working together and that people are not opposing things, as usually happens here with rows. I congratulate everyone on this Bill. We need to make sure it is delivered and ensure that everyone in this country gets a chance from a crèche upwards because we can learn a lot of these things at a young age, such as learning how to sign. It is great what a young child can take in. Well done to the Minister of State on accepting the Bill. I know he has tabled amendments but I do not think there is much objection to any of them because they make the Bill better.

Amendment No. 17 to section 10 would shorten the Title of the Bill. Unfortunately, we cannot support this amendment. I implore the Minister of State on this very special day not to push this amendment. The Title of the Bill is of great importance to the deaf community. Keeping the word "recognition" shows the symbolic and significant nature of this Bill, and indeed this day. The Minister of State has been a great advocate and an active Minister of State on this issue. I ask him not to move this amendment and to keep the Title as the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill.

The Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, will speak on the generality of matters.

Gabhaim m'aitheantas chuig an Bhille um Theanga Chomharthaíochta na hÉireann do na Bodhair a Aithint 2016. Gabhaim m'aitheantas agus mo chomhghairdeas leis an Seanadóir Mark Daly agus le mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Neamhspleách, Finian McGrath, faoi choinne a gcomhoibriú. Níl muidne ag troid sa Teach seo achan lá. Is lá stairiúil é seo. Aontaím le tuairim an Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim aitheantas do na daoine atá ag obair ar an aistriúchán inniu. Cuirim fáilte roimh na daoine uilig. Mar fhocal pearsanta, trí bliana ó shin ní raibh mé ábalta labhairt leo siúd a bhí ag labhairt Gaeilge i mo pharóiste féin. Ní raibh mé ábalta. Tuigim cé chomh tábhachtach atá sé daoine a bheith ábalta labhairt tríd a dteanga féin. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Arís, is lá stairiúil é. Déanaim comhghairdeas agus gabhaim buíochas le achan duine as a bheith ag obair le chéile ar son na ndaoine sa Ghailearaí Phoiblí, taobh amuigh agus timpeall na tíre.

I thank the Deputies for their comments. As I mentioned earlier, amendment No. 17 provides for the changing of the Title of the Bill to the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 as a crisper and more user-friendly Short Title. I stress that the recognition of Irish Sign Language is still explicit in the Bill's Long Title and it would be useful to have a citation for a Bill that people will use and that does not have to be abbreviated in ordinary speech. As the House will note, the Long Title of the Bill is an Act to provide for the recognition of Irish Sign Language. The amendment does not take away from that, but it does provide a shorter citation that people will use in practice. That is my personal view. The current Title is a long one which, in practice, people will abbreviate. However, I always listen to Deputy Murphy O'Mahony when it comes to these contributions and I have listened very carefully to other Deputies. I regularly listen to Deputy Murphy O'Mahony speak on other issues regarding services for people with disabilities. Having said that, this is not something on which I wish to divide the House so I will not press the amendment in view of her strong views that she expressed.

The deaf community should possibly come to visit us more often if such unanimity can be made to break out.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 24, to delete "the Companies Acts" and substitute "the Companies Act 2014".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, line 25, to delete "any Scheme" and substitute "any scheme".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, line 26, to delete "the Companies Acts" and substitute "the Companies Act 2014".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 3, line 30, to delete "the Companies Acts" and substitute "the Companies Act 2014".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:

"(h) any other person, body, organisation or group prescribed under section 6(5).".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 2

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, line 9, to delete "this section" and substitute "this Act".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 3

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, line 17, to delete “and the corresponding duty” and substitute “which is an indigenous language in its own right used by a sizeable minority in the State and the duty”.

As this is my only amendment that has not been ruled out of order, I will make some points on it and on some of my other amendments. I do not know if somebody has been engaged in mischief over the past number of days or what has been going on in terms of the reaction to me tabling amendments to the Bill. I am not sure who started it or where it started. However, there was a suggestion that some civil servants had a problem with us tabling amendments. I am fully aware of the detailed work that went on behind the scenes through the offices of Senator Mark Daly, representatives of the deaf community and civil servants in preparing the Bill. That is their democratic right. They had a very keen and diligent input into the process. It is our democratic right and responsibility, as Deputies in the House, to use the democratic methods we have to table amendments to improve legislation if we think we can do that. There was never any chance that the tabling of these amendments would scupper or undermine anything or take from the glory of Senator Mark Daly or anybody else. Their purpose was simply to highlight a number of issues we felt needed to be highlighted. I make absolutely no apologies for that.

While recognising the rights of everybody in this process, I acknowledge the rights of everybody outside this process, including the deaf community, who were not at those talks, and the hearing community. This is an issue for everybody. If we are serious about it, we will all take responsibility for it. This amendment is a very simple one dealing with section 3(1) of the Bill which states, "The State recognises the right of Irish Sign Language users to use Irish Sign Language as their native language and the corresponding duty on all public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language...". It is very important that is accommodated but my amendment seeks to recognise that ISL is more than that. It is not just a vehicle for accessing information; it is a vehicle in its own right and cultural recognition needs to be established. Instead of stating "corresponding duty" just for the sake of it, I am suggesting the words "which is an indigenous language in its own right used by a sizeable minority in the State" and the duty would be on all public bodies to provide ISL. It puts it in its important cultural context. That is why we have moved the amendment. This issue is bigger than just access to services.

As my other amendments have been ruled out of order and I will not take time later on, I will mention the suggestion that was made to me by one of the ushers on the way in to the Chamber. There is a very good sign language programme running in Trinity College at the moment and some of my staff have signed up to do the course in the new year. It is very good. One of the ushers suggested that the ushers in the House and Members should be encouraged and funded to take up that course in order to provide the types of services the deaf community deserves. If we are really serious, we will see measures like that coming on.

My other proposed amendments deal with opening up the education system and providing access to the broader hearing community to be involved in sign language. I put that forward as a suggestion now in terms of the operation of the Houses. It is something the Minister of State could take up because it will not be addressed later.

Does Deputy Ó Caoláin wish to contribute on the matter?

Could we hear the Minister of State's response first?

I am aware that some of Deputy Daly's other amendments were ruled out of order. I give her a commitment that it had nothing to do with me or my civil servants. They have reassured me of that. With regard to amendment No. 8, making a clear link between the recognition of Irish Sign Language and the right of users to free interpretation is a positive thing. I do not see the advantage of removing the word "corresponding" and I am not sure why the Deputy is making that proposal. The link is a good idea and should be retained in the Bill.

I am advised the second part of the amendment is unnecessary. It can be taken as a statement of fact and contains nothing to which I would object. It does not contain any new obligation or duty on anyone or confer any new rights. The advice my Department has received from the Attorney General's office is that words in legislation should, in layman's language, have a job to do, should mean something in terms of clarifying a process or creating a duty or a right. This text does not do that and is therefore unnecessary. In light of the advice I have received, perhaps Deputy Daly might agree not to press the amendment.

Does Deputy Daly wish to comment?

I note the Minister's reference to superfluous language in drafting legislation. In all my years here, I have noted quite a lot of superfluous language. That aside, Deputy Daly's amendment makes an important point. It is primarily a statement of fact. I want to acknowledge that. I am disappointed there was any pressure on Deputy Daly in terms of presenting here today. I acknowledge her work and diligence and attention to the Bill. There is merit in it and I want to say well done to Deputy Daly on all her work. I am sure she will make an appropriate call on whether she wishes to press the amendment. It is her prerogative. I wanted to make that point because it is not superfluous language. I happen to concur with it.

I am aware Deputy Daly has been a supporter of the deaf community and an advocate of Irish Sign Language. However, the amendments have been discussed at length and collaborated on with my party colleague, Senator Mark Daly, the Irish Deaf Society, members of the deaf community and the Minister of State and his officials and we cannot support the amendment put forward by the Deputy.

I do not know what has gone on behind the scenes here but I do not like it. This is a very important Bill and a lot of work has gone into it. There has been a lot of consultation and it is very welcome. At the same time, we are legislators and when it comes to finalising legislation it is important that everybody is given a hearing on it. The amendment proposed by Deputy Daly would strengthen the Bill. I do not see any reason the Minister of State would not accept the wording. It makes a statement of fact about ISL being an indigenous language in its own right which is used by a sizeable minority in the State. It is important to state that fact. It strengthens it and recognises it further, not just as a native language but as an indigenous language used by a great number of people. It is not just a small minority thing. It is a welcome proposal. I am concerned that there has been a lot of tick-tacking between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on this to the point where they seem to be excluding other people from having an input into this important Bill. Deputy Daly's contribution should be listened to properly and considered and I would very much welcome it.

Before I call on anyone else, I want to say it would be an awful pity if we had a discordant approach on this Bill. I was not aware until I came into the Chamber that there was a problem with amendments. Three of Deputy Daly's amendments were ruled out of order on the advice of the people who normally process these things. They were ruled out of order because they were considered to be a potential charge on the Exchequer. There is a constitutional prohibition on legislators other than members of the Government proposing anything that imposes a charge on the Exchequer. I am not aware of anything untoward, exceptional, different or extraordinary in how these matters were dealt with. Very often people who have their amendments ruled out of order are very unhappy but I am afraid there is not much I can do about it.

I came to the Chamber to express my very strong support of this legislation. Unfortunately, as happens in the Houses, committees and other demands mean we do not all have the opportunity to be present at all debates. The Labour Party and I are very supportive of this measure.

I commend Senator Mark Daly and all those who were involved. This is a House of Legislature. The recognition of Irish Sign Language as a unique language in its own accord is a very important advance. I would intrinsically support the amendment in that regard. In my constituency office in Wexford I share premises with the People's College, which runs a number of courses. One of the best-attended courses is in Irish Sign Language, both beginners and more advanced. All of us need to pay more attention to it to ensure that people who are deaf can participate fully in all State services, including in communicating with Members of the Oireachtas in our constituency settings.

I will not be discordant in my contribution. I hope that what is intended in this amendment can be accepted. I express my party's strong support for the thrust of the Bill and all the work done by the Minister of State, the proposers of this legislation in the Seanad and here. I commend all the members of the Irish Deaf Society in advancing a very important fundamental right for them.

I thank the Deputies who contributed. My points were in no way a reflection of any decision by the Ceann Comhairle's office or the ruling out of order; I understand fully how that process works and I fully accept it. It was more to do with the fact that because there has been so much dedicated and hands-on work behind the scenes in preparation for bringing the Bill here, between representatives of the deaf community and the Civil Service, there may have been a feeling that anybody else who made suggestions outside that was not to be welcomed. I reiterate the points Deputy Shortall made: our job, as legislators, is to try to improve legislation where we see fit. We, the members of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, have been trying to push this and are keen to see it through.

I will not repeat the points. It is self-evident to me. I raised this point when we discussed a report from the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality last year. Public bodies have a duty to provide Irish Sign Language, but the language exists regardless of that duty. That should be recognised as such without being directly linked to a service approach. They are two separate things and they should be two separate sentences; that is all I am seeking to do. They are statements of fact and not superfluous at all. We do not treat other languages in such narrow terms. We do not connect the use of Irish or English with accessing public services. We automatically understand that people have a right to use those languages in their own right. That is all the amendment seeks to do.

As discussed in the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, the point is to ensure that adequate steps are taken to end the extreme marginalisation of people in the deaf community. That is a responsibility for us in the hearing community who were not necessarily involved in the backroom talks on this. I echo the points made by my colleagues. I think it is a point of fact and can be contained. I do not see what the problem is.

Before the Minister of State comes in, I remind the House that by order of the House in seven minutes I may be putting one question, which would be my first time to do so. In a sense it is a guillotine, but it is in the interests of getting the Bill passed.

While a lot of discussions took place, nothing untoward took place behind the scenes, as some people have said. I respect the Deputy's democratic right to introduce amendments. I take on board many of her suggestions and I would be very supportive of them.

Regarding amendment No. 8, however, it is important to say it is recognised in amendment No. 1. I am trying to get the legislation through with the co-operation of all the Members. I ask the Deputy not to press the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 3 agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, line 37, to delete “in loco parentis” and substitute “in loco parentis”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 10 is out of order.

Amendment No. 10 not moved.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 6

Amendment No. 11 is out of order as it involves a potential charge.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 5, to delete line 21 and substitute “statutory entitlements or services provided by or under statute by that public body.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 5, to delete lines 23 to 25 and substitute the following:

“(3) The Minister may by regulations—

(a) provide that where a person intends to avail of Irish Sign Language services provided by a public body, the person shall give the public body such prior notification of his or her intention within such period as specified in the regulations, or

(b) provide for the procedure in relation to the provision of such services by a public body.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 5, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

“(5) The Minister may prescribe as a public body such other person, body, organisation or group financed wholly or partly out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas (being a person, body, organisation or group that, in the opinion of the Minister, ought, in the public interest and having regard to the provisions and intentions of this Act, to be so prescribed).”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 6, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 7 and 8 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 6, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

“Support for access to events, services and activities for users of Irish Sign Language

9. (1) The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection may, with the consent of the Minister for Expenditure and Reform, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, provide funds to facilitate users of Irish Sign Language with regard to support in relation to access to social, educational and cultural events and services (including medical) and other activities by such users as specified in guidelines made by that Minister of the Government.

(2) Guidelines under this section shall specify the events, services and activities to which the guidelines apply and shall make provision regarding the management and delivery of the support in relation to access to those events, services or activities by users of Irish Sign Language.”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 6, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

“Report of operation of Act

9. (1) The Minister shall, not later than 3 years after the date on which this Act is enacted and every 5 years thereafter require a report to be prepared on the operation of this Act.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), a report under this section shall include an assessment of—

(a) whether any amendments to the scope and contents of this Act are necessary or desirable,

(b) whether additional provisions need to be made in relation to supports for a child within the school system whose primary language is Irish Sign Language, and

(c) the qualifications for the minimum level of Irish Sign Language competency for persons who are teaching a child whose primary language is Irish Sign Language.

(3) The Minister shall ensure that persons or organisations that are representative of the interests of the members of the deaf community are consulted on the matters to be considered in a report prepared under this section.

(4) The Minister shall cause a copy of a report prepared under this section to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 9 deleted.
SECTION 10

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 6, lines 22 and 23, to delete “Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Act 2017” and substitute “Irish Sign Language Act 2017”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 18 is out of order as it is a potential charge.

Amendment No. 18 not moved.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

The Bill, which is considered to be a Dáil Bill in accordance with Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.

(Interruptions).

It is not usual, but those in the Gallery are very welcome to interrupt proceedings because it is an historic Bill. We were due to have a guillotine at 6.45 p.m., but we did not need it. I thank Deputies for their co-operation.