We are dealing with No. 43, motion No. 9, on the recognition of Irish Sign Language. Before we commence, I welcome the members of the Irish Deaf Society. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for making arrangements for sign language interpretation to the Visitors Gallery for this important debate. We are all very supportive of the initiative. It is great to see it in the Chamber. I invite Senator Martin Conway to move the motion.
Irish Sign Language: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:
- recognises unequivocally Irish Sign Language as the preferred sign language of the deaf community in the State;
- recognises Irish Sign Language as an expression of culture and an instrument for access to education and equal opportunities;
- notes and commends the work of the many State and non-governmental organisations to support and promote the use of Irish Sign Language in the State;
- calls on the Government in partnership with the representatives of the deaf community to develop ideas for improving access to public services by users of Irish Sign Language; and
- calls on the Government to target initiatives which would enhance the effective availability of interpreters and interpretation solutions such as using technology for remote access to services.
Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. It is great to see the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, back among us. She is heartily welcome. I agree with the sentiments the Acting Chairman has just expressed. It is great to welcome members of the Irish deaf community to the Visitors Gallery. It is appropriate that the House has organised sign interpretation for this important debate. This is an equality issue. It is about access to information and it is important in terms of how we define ourselves as a nation. Irish Sign Language is a unique language. It is the mechanism used by thousands of deaf people in this country to communicate. It is their language and they are proud of it.
Commitments have been made on the recognition of Irish Sign Language as far back as the Good Friday Agreement. Irish Sign Language was seen as the language of a united Ireland and a language of equality where people from different traditions had a common thread and language that broke down barriers. It was identified by peacemakers in Northern Ireland as a symbol of what could be achieved and the type of country and society to which the people who crafted the Good Friday Agreement aspired. It was a beacon of hope, light, connectivity, equality and inclusiveness and that was the reason Irish Sign Language was part of the Good Friday Agreement. In recent years there have been many campaigns for the recognition of Irish Sign Language. Its promotion and advancement is in the programme for Government.
We have a unique opportunity in Seanad Éireann to unanimously support a motion recognising the importance of Irish Sign Language. That is a crucial and important step in the right direction towards eventual recognition. As an individual and politician I am fully committed to the full recognition of Irish Sign Language.
Other countries have done it successfully and we can learn from their experience. If it is something that will take time then let us start the process. I see this evening as the beginning of a process where a House of the Oireachtas unanimously recognises the importance of Irish Sign Language. Everybody has a right to full access to information. People need to be able to go about their daily lives and communicate with comfort and ease, and with the knowledge that information is not being suppressed in any way and that they have full access to it. Many people speak as Gaeilge and their rights are recognised by the Official Languages Act, which is absolutely appropriate and correct. Irish Sign Language is the method of communication for thousands of deaf people and I firmly believe we need to aspire to its full recognition in Irish legislation.
I commend some of my colleagues who have campaigned on this issue. Senator Mark Daly has prepared an Irish Sign Language Bill and I sincerely hope we can work together in the interests of Irish Sign Language, because while it is a political issue it is not a party political issue. I also commend other colleagues, including Senator Cáit Keane, who has done enormous work with the deaf community during the years. One of her first motions on the Adjournment was on Irish Sign Language.
There is a huge amount of political support for this; we just need to identify the correct mechanism to implement it. If it needs to be done incrementally, so be it. Those campaigning for recognition of Irish Sign Language are, like me, reasonable. They know the old cliché that Rome was not built in a day, and what they want to see is a pathway to recognition. If there are issues or challenges, or the Civil Service - what we like to call the permanent government - has concerns, let us hear them and let us engage so we can smooth them out and alleviate them.
Today I informed the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality that this motion, which I sincerely hope will be agreed unanimously, was before Seanad Éireann. I suggested in the event that the motion was agreed that the committee would hold a module on the possibility of introducing legislation to facilitate recognition of Irish Sign Language, and that the committee would seek submissions and hold oral hearings with a view to writing a report of recommendations to the Minister on how best to go about it. I hope the committee will examine best international practice and examine where sign language is officially recognised and make recommendations to the Government accordingly.
This country has achieved much with regard to disability, access and equality but this is an area in which we have significantly underachieved. With the capacity legislation which the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is bringing through the Houses, Ireland will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In advance of ratification I would like to see the spirit of the UN convention being embraced and Irish Sign Language is a fundamental part of the spirit of the UN convention. As a country we should not be looking for best practice internationally when it comes to equality of access to information; we should be setting the standard and this is why the motion is important. With the mandate the Seanad received from the Irish people in the referendum last week, where the people overwhelmingly decided to retain it, it can champion issues such as this, and I certainly intend to do so. This evening's debate will be important with regard to the future of Irish Sign Language and achieving what many in the Visitors Gallery want, namely, official recognition. It is my pleasure to propose the motion and I look forward to hearing the debate and the contributions from my colleagues on all sides of the House.
I second the motion and I am delighted to welcome representatives from the Irish Deaf Society to the Chamber.
As Senator Martin Conway stated, my involvement on this issue with Brian Crean, Dr. John Bosco Conama and the Irish Deaf Society goes back a long way. It was important to me that I used my maiden Adjournment motion in the Seanad two years ago to raise the issue. I am afraid not much has happened since and I am delighted Senator Martin Conway has put it on the agenda as a Fine Gael Private Members' motion. It is only by keeping it on the agenda at every opportunity we will see advances. I have a lot of trust in the Minister of State that she will ensure it moves forward.
Senator Martin Conway mentioned the Good Friday Agreement. I raised the matter at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly which meant I had to have 15 signatures, including five each from various member Governments. Some of the Unionists initially confused Irish Sign Language with the Irish language but they were delighted to sign it and we got it through. I am awaiting a report from the three Governments to which it was sent, and the Welsh Government is preparing a Bill.
Official recognition of the language is important. It is all right to state that there are rights and that we will take action, and much is written down on paper, but writing into legislation official rights and recognition is what is important. This is what everybody in society, including the deaf community, deserves. It is not asking for much.
In 1998, the European Parliament passed a resolution on sign language and in 2010 the Brussels declaration on sign language in the European Union was signed. We have no legislation on Irish Sign Language. The Minister of State has provided a good paper on the facilities available, and more is available now than it was before. Irish Sign Language is part of the culture of deaf people and approximately 40,000 people use it, including 5,000 deaf people. It is not easy to be deaf in mainstream society. They are absolutely fantastic people and I congratulate them on the work they have done in reaching the heights they have in society and education. Services are not always available and they must fight for them.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its optional protocol, was adopted in 2006 and I ask the Minister of State to speak about this. Article 9 recognises the right of people with disabilities to live independently. This aims to eliminate any obstacle or barrier. The article also obliges the State to take certain measures to ensure deaf people can partake in society, including recognising and promoting the use of sign language.
Signing up to the convention would advance the development of Irish Sign Language. Hungary can do this. It has given official recognition to its own sign language, which creates a foundation. There is an attitudinal shift when people get their rights in legislation, which is all people are looking for.
The adoption of the sign language legislation in Hungary was the outcome of a long struggle, like ours. When I was a councillor, I came to Leinster House to approach then Senator Ann Ormonde who did what she could, but nothing was really done at the time. I hope we will end the struggle as we have been fighting for it for a long time. I hope, we will achieve equality in education, in particular early education at the preschool level. I know Dr. John Bosco Conama and Mr. Brian Crean. When we set up the Model School for the Deaf, it got funding for a threeyear pilot project in regard to early education assistance in the home for Irish Sign Language. All of this is necessary. While some assistance is given, they have to fight for it all the way, whereas it should be there as of right, in legislation. I ask the Minister of State to progress this issue and congratulate Senator Martin Conway for putting it on the agenda. I hope the Minister of State will come back to the House again on the issue. As we will not achieve everything today, we will be keeping it on the agenda.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the members of the deaf community. The Irish Deaf Society is my nominating body and I am proud to be their Senator in this Chamber. I welcome Dr. John Bosco Conama, with whom I have worked on the issue of the recognition of Irish Sign Language.
We are in breach of all sorts of agreements. We are in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Good Friday Agreement and the Constitution, whereby we would treat all our citizens equally. We are discriminating against Irish citizens because of the fact they are members of the deaf community.
All parties, my own included, have made election promises in regard to the recognition of Irish Sign Language. When we were in government I approached our own Ministers on the issues, yet it got bogged down in official Ireland. The establishment and the Civil Service, not noted for telling us how things can be done, were telling me why it cannot be done. I fear this will not happen until such time as a member of the deaf community takes the Government to court and forces it to do what it has agreed to do under the Good Friday Agreement. We are in breach of that agreement. Despite the fact Irish Sign Language is officially recognised in the North, down here it is not given the same recognition, has not been put on a legislative footing and does not have statutory support. That is not as it should be, as the Minister of State is aware.
We have to consider the consequences for members of the deaf community of the fact we do not recognise Irish Sign Language. It means that they do not have access to information, whether citizens' information, information on Government services or information about the Department of Social Protection. It is hard for us to understand how difficult it is to even go about accessing social welfare services when one cannot communicate as other members of the community do, namely, through a glass screen while not having an interpreter available. In addition, there is the issue of education and trying to access educational services. Most importantly and life threatening of all, there is the issue of access to health services. Can one imagine a person trying to communicate with a doctor or a staff member in accident and emergency about their condition and how they are feeling when there is a language barrier between them? With modern technology, an interpreter can be available on a telephone in any doctor's surgery or accident and emergency unit. However, that will not be made available until such time as there is official recognition because people will not do it unless they have to and Governments will not act unless they must.
While there is goodwill, no doubt, until such time as Irish Sign Language is put on an official State footing and until legislation is brought in, we will continue to see the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Good Friday Agreement broken and not implemented. We have legislation available. The Irish Sign Language recognition Bill, which I will make available to all Members, will plug the hole and make sure we are no longer in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. I hope the Minister of State might be available to come back to the House again, and she could give the Bill to the officials to see what we can do in terms of advancing this issue. I hope all Members would support it and let it go to Committee Stage, and that we would give time for whatever amendments the Government sees fit to include to be included in that legislation in order that it can go to the Dáil and be enacted. We would then no longer breach the Good Friday Agreement and the deaf community here would be on the same footing as the deaf community in the North in regard to the issue of Irish Sign Language. We would ensure that all of the people in the Visitors Gallery and the members of the deaf community in Ireland get the recognition for Irish Sign Language that has been promised but has so far not been delivered by this Government or any other Government.
I welcome the Minister of State. I also welcome the members of the deaf community and the Irish Deaf Society for this very worthwhile debate. I commend Senator Martin Conway and his Fine Gael colleagues on bringing forward this very important Private Members' motion. I know Senator Cáit Keane has been working in this area for many years and has brought forward very important comments, motions and a speech in recent weeks on this issue.
At the heart of this motion is recognition and inclusion. As has been well established at this point, without legal protection deaf people face uncertain and limited access to society and are exposed to disadvantages in every aspect of their daily lives. A number of Government initiatives are already in place which seek to promote and enhance Irish Sign Language, and these include special schools for the deaf or hearing impaired, who have been encouraged to use sign language in class; funding for an Irish Sign Language weekly home tuition service whereby deaf tutors visit the homes of deaf preschool children and deaf school-going children to provide training in Irish Sign Language for the deaf children, their siblings and parents; and funding is also made available through the Special Education Support Service to enable individual teachers and whole-school staff to undertake courses in Irish Sign Language which are available throughout the country.
As everyone will be aware, the NCSE published policy advice on "The Education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children in Ireland" in February 2012. As with many disabilities and difficulties, early intervention and well-resourced supports is key. A few of the NCSE recommendations have been implemented to date, including the universal newborn hearing screening programme and information for parents on services available to their children. As with so many things during these difficult years, we could do with more funding and more attention being paid to this area.
As a spokesperson for disability and equality, promoting inclusion of the various different groups in our society is at the fore of my work in the Seanad. I believe one of the most important features of this motion is the attention paid to developing ideas for improved access to public services for users of Irish Sign Language between those in the Irish deaf community and Government and Department representatives. I have insisted on many different issues that the key stakeholders, the people with the most input, should be those who have the most to gain or lose, as the case may be. In the area of special needs education, I have always advocated that parents of children with special needs should have a seat and a loud voice at the discussion table. This situation should be no different. As I have never suffered with a hearing impairment, I am not best placed to make decisions, like those in the Visitors Gallery. They are the true experts on this subject and their advice and ideas should be seriously taken into account.
As I understand it, a meeting will be held on 14 November 2013 under the national disability strategy implementation plan and this will focus on Irish Sign Language. I look forward to the results of this meeting and I would welcome post-meeting feedback from those interested parties here today.
Every day advocacy groups, organisations and charities are doing more with less to serve their members. As a Government we need to think flexibly and innovatively on this topic. The programme for Government commits to "examine different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish Sign Language". While doing research for this speech I learned a great deal more than I had previously known about the issues facing the deaf community and the ways in which we can assist them in achieving equality of access to services and in other areas of life.
I look forward to the outcomes and recommendations of the meeting under the national disability strategy next month and I will continue to work with Government colleagues to address the issues raised here today.
I do not have a hearing impairment. I had not come in contact with those with hearing difficulties until it came to the fore through my involvement with the Special Olympics. One of our athletes from England was fluent in English Sign Language but when he came to Ireland he had to struggle to pick up Irish Sign Language as people here could not understand English Sign Language and he was caught in the middle. This brought to the fore the importance of ensuring Irish Sign Language is recognised as an official language. One realises the importance of language when one comes in contact with such individual cases. I would welcome feedback from those who continue to work in this area.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. It is wonderful to see her in this Chamber.
I am very supportive of the motion tabled by my friend and colleague, Senator Martin Conway, and well supported by Senator Cáit Keane. As I am not that familiar with this issue, n advance I seek forgiveness if I step on toes and say the wrong things. I have a great many questions because as I research the issue, I find more contradictions as I try to work out the real obstacles.
As was stated, the European Parliament unanimously approved a resolution about deaf sign languages on 17 June 1988. The resolution asks all member countries to recognise their national sign languages as official languages of the deaf. The Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, but has yet to ratify the convention, which contains obligations toward native sign languages. We need to be mindful of the needs of the deaf and the hard of hearing and develop improved systems in consultation with that community.
I am cognisant of evolving technologies. I think we could do more with technology. The BBC has late night reruns of programmes which have sign language captions. Given changed viewing habits, I do not know about anybody else but I tend to watch all prerecorded television, but perhaps we could also do more repeat programmes with Irish Sign Language captions. My colleague, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, informed me the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's national theatre, has been putting on Irish Sign Language interpreted performances of each of its plays for the past 13 years and has de facto recognised and supported Irish Sign Language as the third indigenous language in Ireland. The Abbey Theatre should be applauded for that initiative. Other bodies should be encouraged to look at similar initiatives. The State has a responsibility but we all have a responsibility. I thank Senators Conway and Keane for their input. I also want to thank Senators Mary Moran and Mark Daly. Senator Mark Daly has already answered some of my questions.
Some 850,000 people in Ireland have hearing issues, if we include some of the senior population. However, only 1,077 put down Irish Sign Language as their method of communication when filling out the census in 2011. Some members of the deaf community are present and have clearly articulated their needs. We need to consider ways of using new technologies in public service offices. We would be able to provide Irish Sign Language services in a cost effective way. Some 20 years ago, cost would have been a factor but we must question whether it is a factor today. I accept there may be other options for the younger deaf population.
I will take the opportunity to mention the parallel issue of the cochlear implant programme. I am very concerned that out of the 28 cochlear implant centres between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, Ireland is the only one that does not provide a bilateral cochlear implant programme. I know the Minister of State has met the organisation and is committed to the issue but there are 350 children on the waiting list to receive a sequential cochlear implant. We know that of that number, only 200 to 240 children will take it up. The preference is that bilateral cochlear implants are done simultaneously. I know of one such case. The first implant failed and the girl had to undergo surgery to have it removed and replaced by a new implant. The girl was not allowed out of her mother's sight and had to live in silence for five weeks, which the mother said traumatised her daughter. One can only switch on the implant after four weeks and the person has to relearn all the sounds again, such as the sound of a bouncing ball, a clicking pen and words. This has a significant impact on the quality of life at a critical time in the learning and development of a young person, as does Irish Sign Language. It is really important that we do not see these issues as being in competition with each other. We must consider how we support members of the deaf community to get the supports that will ensure they have the best quality of life possible, as we want for all citizens.
The debate has opened up more issues. It is vital that we talk to the deaf community and ensure there is a co-ordinated responsive approach. The right to use one's own language is an important human right. Like all linguistic minorities, members of the deaf community have different degrees of access to the majority language of the wider community and for many, English is only a second or a third language. Consequently, written material and spoken communication are often inaccessible to deaf people. We need to consider what supports are available. I welcome the opportunity this debate has provided to learn about his issue. As I become more involved I hope I will be able to support my colleagues in the Seanad.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and our distinguished visitors in the Visitors Gallery. I compliment my colleagues, Senators Martin Conway and Cáit Keane, on bringing forward the motion. I hope this will be a very significant step on the road to the eventual official recognition of Irish Sign Language. This is an issue of equality - equality of opportunity in employment, in education, in being able to access the various services provided by the State, enjoying television and playing a full part in every aspect of life. It is a matter of principle that the motion is passed.
The Government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, which contains commitments and duties towards native sign languages.
I have an interest in this matter because of something significant that happened over 25 years ago at a major manufacturing plant in Ballinasloe where I worked as personnel officer. One day a nun from the school for the deaf in Cabra arrived at reception. She asked me to consider employing a young lady from Lawrencetown outside Ballinasloe. That was the first time I had been asked to consider hiring a person with a disability and I was extremely apprehensive. However, the nun was so persuasive that I met the young lady whose name was Ms Joan Kelly. They both convinced me to take a chance. Ms Kelly used sign language and written notes and I gave her an employment opportunity on a trial basis. I assure Members that I have never regretted that decision. Ms Kelly made a major contribution to the company. She thrived and prospered in the organisation. It was an American company which had an employee of the year scheme and Ms Kelly travelled to the United States as a winner of the award. Not alone did she have a long career with the company, but we hired four others who were deaf or had a disability, with Ms Kelly providing advice and assistance. She helped to train employees and provided induction training in the company. My experience has been extremely positive and as I have not forgotten it, I want in any way I can to help to ensure Irish Sign Language is legally recognised in the State.
I commend my colleagues, Senators Martin Conway and Cáit Keane, for tabling the motion and hope the Minister of State will have something positive to say. This is an important day for the deaf community as it has brought its case to Parliament. Having listened to the contributions so far, I know the response has been very positive. We look forward to working with it in the coming months to ensure there will be legal recognition for Irish Sign Language in order that all members of the community can continue to grow, prosper and avail of all the opportunities available to every citizen, whether it be in education, employment or gaining access to various services.
Before calling the Minister of State, I extend a welcome to Dr. John Bosco Conama from Ballintubber, County Roscommon, chairman of the Irish Sign Language recognition group which is led by the Irish Deaf Society, of which he is a member. He is also a neighbour of mine and I am sorry that I have not had a chance to meet him before now. He has a connection to my wife and I am very proud of what he has achieved both in broadcasting and through his work for the Irish Deaf Society. In previous jobs I would have listened attentively to him. I know that the Minister of State will be very supportive.
I thank the Acting Chairman. I will commence by replying to something Senator Mark Daly said. We have signed but not ratified the UN convention because there are certain things we need to do first. Some countries have signed and ratified it, but they are now being held to account for not putting in place the necessary structures to implement what is included in the convention. Ireland has adopted a more sensible approach and is putting the necessary structures in place before ratifying the convention. That is why the capacity legislation is vitally important. It is the largest piece we need to put in place before ratification, but there are other little bits and pieces that have to be put in place also.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House and thank the Senators concerned for proposing the motion. I ask the person signing for those seated in the Visitors Gallery to let me know if I am speaking too fast.
The programme for Government commits to examining different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish Sign Language and that process has commenced. The commitment was made in recognition of the fact that Irish Sign Language was the preferred sign language of the deaf community in the State and an expression of culture. As a first language for many in the deaf community, we also recognise that its use is the means through which full and equal opportunities may be achieved by its users. In addressing the commitment in the programme for Government I requested, as a starting point, that the National Disability Authority facilitate consultations with the deaf community to more fully understand its position. The consultations took place in May last year and brought together broad representation from the deaf community. Written submissions from those involved were subsequently received outlining proposals for the promotion and recognition of the language and detailing actions that could be taken to improve access to services. The contents of the submissions were brought to the senior officials group on disability services and considered for inclusion, where possible and appropriate, in the national disability strategy implementation plan published in July this year.
As part of the national disability strategy implementation plan and to continue to build on the work undertaken to date, I intend to hold themed meetings of the national disability strategy implementation group to deal with specific issues to be advanced on a cross-departmental basis. The first such meeting will focus on this matter. I will chair the meeting that will consist of representatives of the relevant Departments, the National Disability Authority, the deaf community and other relevant stakeholders. They will be in a position to examine the current position across Departments and their agencies on promoting recognition of Irish Sign Language, including in-service provision. In this way we can address the most pertinent issues regarding service delivery and identify means and supports to assist public bodies in delivering more accessible services. Actions identified and agreed will be incorporated into the national disability strategy implementation plan, with key performance indicators and timelines and the relevant person being identified for implementing the action. Progress on the actions to be undertaken will be monitored as part of the implementation plan monitoring process.
It must be made clear that there are no plans to establish Irish Sign Language as Ireland's third official language. That approach might ultimately result in scarce resources being used to meet legislative requirements that may be of lesser, if any, real benefit to the deaf community than more targeted actions that would significantly improve the situation at the more practical level of service provision and improved communications when conducting business with public bodies. This is not to say it should not be recognised in terms of its cultural and linguistic identity.
I fully understand Irish Sign Language is an expression of culture and an indigenous language of the deaf community. It is in this regard that mechanisms for the promotion of the recognition of Irish Sign Language will be examined in order that an agreed platform can be reached regarding the form of recognition that is possible. I understand other countries have made legislative provision for the recognition of sign language. However, it must not be overlooked that the existing legislation in Ireland and the provisions made on an administrative basis give a level of recognition and provide practical measures equal to or above those offered by countries which have formally recognised sign language. In Ireland legal provisions regarding sign language are set out in the Disability Act, equality legislation, broadcasting legislation and the Education Act 1998. While some of this legislation does not specifically reference the Irish Sign Language, its intention is to ensure provision is made and support given to prohibit discrimination and enable all citizens to access public services. The Education Act 1998 makes explicit reference to Irish Sign Language. I will highlight the extent of the provisions made and their impact. Specific reference to Irish Sign Language is also made in two pieces of secondary legislation, the code of practice on access to services and information for people with disabilities and the statutory broadcasting access rules.
Section 26 of the Disability Act obliges public bodies, where practicable and appropriate, to provide assistance, where requested, for people with disabilities to enable them to access the same public service as anyone else. Section 28 of the Act requires that, where a public body is communicating with a person with a hearing impairment and where requested, the contents of the communication, as far as practicable, be communicated in a form that is accessible to the person concerned. The statutory code of practice on accessible services and information which provides guidance on these two provisions references the provision of Irish Sign Language interpretation in the case of major public consultations. It does not specifically refer to it otherwise, but it does stress the need to establish procedures for processing requests and determining the practicability of providing the form of support requested within particular communication contexts and timeframes.
The Employment Equality Acts require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability in areas such as employment and training, while the Equal Status Acts require service providers to reasonably accommodate a person with a disability availing of the service. The provision of sign language interpretation is something which should be considered in providing these accommodations. The Broadcasting Act 2009 enables the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to make rules specifying the steps broadcasters have to take to promote understanding and enjoyment of their programming by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The access rules in place under these provisions have specific requirements set out for Irish Sign Language. The Government recognises the importance of the provision of television broadcasting services with Irish Sign Language, as well as captioning and other supplementary communication platforms, in terms of inclusion and the need to support members of the deaf community. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is committed to continuing to pursue with RTE delivery of television programmes with Irish Sign Language in line with this legislation and the commitment given in the national disability strategy implementation plan. In this regard, mainstream programming with Irish sign language interpretation is due to commence on 16 October covering three hours per week approximately.
Irish Sign Language has formal recognition in the Education Act 1998. It is a function of the Minister for Education and Skills to ensure, subject to the provisions of the Act, that there is made available to each person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting his or her needs and abilities. This includes provision for students learning through Irish Sign Language.
With regard to education, the Government has passionately defended the provision for children with special educational needs, including children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some €1.3 billion will be spent this year in support of children with special educational needs. This will ensure the majority of pupils with special educational needs can continue to be educated in an inclusive environment in mainstream schools with their peers, while pupils who have additional special educational needs which require intensive interventions in a specialised environment, special class and special school placements can continue to be provided for.
In line with the policy of the Department of Education and Skills that children with special educational needs access appropriate education interventions in mainstream settings, where possible, many deaf or hard of hearing pupils are integrated into mainstream classes at primary and post-primary level with the assistance, as necessary, of resource teaching and special needs assistant support. In addition, there are 16 special classes for pupils with hearing impairment attached to mainstream schools, as well as three special schools for children with hearing impairment. Enhanced capitation grants are provided for the special schools and special classes for hearing impaired pupils. Pupils in special classes and special schools for hearing impaired children are supported by an enhanced pupil-teacher ratio of 7:1. Special needs assistant support is also provided in these schools and classes, as required. Many of the pupils in special classes or special schools are either taught through Irish Sign Language or use Irish sign language for part of the day and the special schools for the deaf and hearing impaired have been encouraged to use sign language in class.
Providing deaf and hard of hearing children with opportunities to acquire fluent language skills at an early age is fundamentally important to developing effective communication skills, facilitating greater access to education and ensuring unproved educational outcomes when the child engages in education at a later stage. The Department of Education and Skills, therefore, funds a number of initiatives which seek to promote and develop Irish Sign Language in order that it will achieve greater recognition and use in the education system. This includes provision for an Irish sign language tuition scheme to assist deaf or hard of hearing children and their families to acquire competency in a language at the earliest possible opportunity. To ensure the child can communicate with his or her family members and assist him or her to acquire fluent language skills while engaged in meaningful activity with capable users of the language and significant others, the child's family members, parents and siblings may also be included in the Irish sign language tuition under the scheme which is provided in the child's home. Under the scheme tutors visit the homes of deaf or hard of hearing preschool and schoolgoing pupils to provide training in Irish Sign Language for the children, their siblings and parents. Funding is also made available through the special education support service to enable individual teachers and school staff to undertake courses in Irish Sign Language which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers.
The Department of Education and Skills, through the Higher Education Authority, has established and funds a centre for deaf studies in Trinity College, Dublin which provides diploma courses for Irish Sign Language interpreters and tutors in deaf studies. In addition, the visiting teacher service for children and young people with hearing impairment is provided by the Department from the time of referral through to third level education. The service provides advice and support, including in Irish Sign Language provision, to ensure the needs of children and young people with hearing impairment are met. The service is available at preschool, primary and post-primary levels. Specifically, the service works in partnership with parents of preschool children with hearing impairment, visiting their homes and-or meeting them in groups to inform, advise and offer guidance in matters pertaining to their education and overall development and in helping their children to derive maximum benefit from the educational opportunities available.
Recently the National Council for Special Education published its policy advice on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children which makes a number of recommendations for the improvement of educational provision for deaf and hard of hearing children, including recommendations relating to the provision of Irish Sign Language. Stakeholders in the deaf community were consulted as part of the preparation of the policy advice. A number of the recommendations contained in the policy advice have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. They include recommendations on the rolling out of a universal newborn hearing screening programme, the provision of information for parents on services available to children with hearing impairment and the establishment of new special classes for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Work is also under way on the implementation of recommendations to improve the provision of Irish Sign Language services.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout mentioned the cochlear implant centres and the lack of a bilateral implementation programme. That is a matter to which the Minister for Health has committed. We all hope the budget will be such that the programme will be delivered on. It is essential to ensure very young children get the best possible advantage.
In addition to the provisions made through legislation, there are a number of examples of good practice across the public service where there is recognition of the need for Irish Sign Language. It is examples such as these that we hope to promote further, to create a greater awareness of and learn from in order that they can be used as examples for others and to encourage widespread implementation and increase access to services Government-wide.
Senator Mark Daly mentioned that people had difficulties in accessing information.
The Department of Social Protection commenced its pilot remote interpreting service in its Navan Road office on 25 July 2013. The Irish Remote Interpreting Service was officially launched by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, this week at the Deaf Village Ireland, Ratoath Road, Dublin. The manager of the service demonstrated the remote interpreting service at the launch and a Department of Social Protection staff member interviewed a deaf customer at the Navan Road office while linked to the remote interpreting service at the Deaf Village in order that the Minister could observe the operation of the service while in the room with the interpreter in the Deaf Village. The remote interpreting service is being used on a trial basis in the Citizens' Information offices based in Dublin north west, O'Connell Street, Tullamore and Dundalk, and in the Deaf Village in Cabra. During the pilot phase, it has been provided as a free service to all departmental users. Service providers such as Departments and their statutory agencies, Citizens' Information offices, employability offices, county councils and schools can avail of the service. It is a collaborative project between the sign language interpreting service, DeafHear and the Irish Deaf Society. The sign language interpreting service is funded by the Citizens' Information Board under the auspices of the Department of Social Protection. Funding of €245,000 has been allocated for 2013.
The sign language interpretation service seeks to ensure high quality interpretation services are available to deaf people in Ireland in order that they can access public and social services. The service provides a live link to an Irish Sign Language interpreter using a variety of programmes such as Skype, ooVoo or WebEx. The sign language interpreter is based in the centre in the Deaf Village and interprets using a computer with Internet access and a webcam. While it will not replace face-to-face interpreting, this service is particularly suitable for short meetings, telephone calls, information inquiries, form filling and interviews. There are 130 social welfare offices and Intreo centres throughout the country where customers can obtain information and guidance on their entitlements and on the services provided by the Department. In larger offices, there are staff dedicated to information provision duties who are available to explain all the Department's supports and services and to help and assist people in completing application forms and accessing their entitlements.
In order to facilitate deaf customers in their interactions with the Department, the services of a sign language interpreter are made available when required. On average, ten requests per year for sign language interpreters have been facilitated by the Department in the past few years. These services are provided by the sign language interpreting service and the Centre for Sign Language Studies. Certain offices provide a loop system for hearing aid users. Information in alternative formats, such as Braille, audio and larger print, is also available upon request.
In regard to employment supports for people with disabilities, the Department of Social Protection continues to offer the job interview interpreter grant through employment services. This is used in circumstances in which a jobseeker is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech impairment and is attending job interviews. They can apply for funding through Department of Social Protection employment services to have a sign language interpreter attend the interview with them. Funding is also available to cover the cost of a sign language interpreter during an induction programme when they start work.
The Irish Deaf Society has assisted the Department's staff development unit in raising deaf awareness in the Department in the past few years and providing information to staff in regard to its Irish Sign Language classes. The HSE recognises the obligations on health and social care providers to ensure the services provided are accessible and has a specific guidance document for language interpreters, entitled On Speaking Terms. Patients and service users are entitled to request and be provided with a qualified sign language interpreter. The cost is borne by the service as it is considered an integral part of the service being provided and it legally protects both the health service provider and the patient or service user. It is understood that failure to make appropriate provision for communication difficulty may result in avoidable serious risks and errors for both patient and health care provider. I agree with the point made by Senator Daly in this regard. It is essential that we are clearly understood when it comes to our health. Providing a qualified sign language interpreter when delivering care to a patient or service helps avoid a situation in which information may be misinterpreted or misunderstood, which may lead to a potential adverse outcome for the patient or service user.
In regard to practical supports for staff, patients and service users, the HSE, under the auspices of the universal access steering committee, is developing two documents. The first is national guidelines on accessible health and social care services, and the second, which is more specific, is the HSE policy and guidelines on access to health services for the deaf community and people who are hard of hearing. Both of these documents are being prepared in consultation with key stakeholders. The development of these documents is in progress and it is intended that they will provide a valuable resource for staff and be available for staff by the end of 2013.
The National Advocacy Unit is working with the sign language interpreting service to identify areas within the HSE where the Irish remote sign language interpreting service could be used to improve patient and service user experience. The National Advocacy Unit has been working with MEDISIGNS, Interesource Group (Ireland) Limited, to develop a sign language version of the Your Service Your Say leaflet, which will make the feedback process more accessible for service users who use Irish Sign Language as their primary means of communication. The Revenue Commissioners also recognises the importance of making information available to users of Irish Sign Language and, to coincide with the introduction of local property tax earlier this year, it commissioned a video through the medium of Irish Sign Language, with subtitles. This video was produced by the Irish Deaf Society and included information on how to complete and submit local property tax returns, details of who is liable, information on exemptions and deferrals and guidance to assist in valuing a property. The use of similar videos will be considered in the future should the need arise.
On a broader level, ongoing development of the Revenue Commissioners' website and other online services assists persons with hearing difficulties in accessing information and in performing certain transactions online, such as using PAYE Anytime. We hope to build on and develop awareness of these types of measure and what we learn from them in order that we can spread this good practice across all public bodies. Using the governance mechanisms already in place, such as the senior officials' group on disability, we can share learning and promote good practice.
Once again, I thank the Senators who proposed the motion. I fully understand the importance of this issue to the deaf community and the need to raise awareness, particularly in the public sector, of the importance of accessible services in providing equal opportunities for all. I commend the work of the many State and non-governmental organisations to support and promote the use of Irish Sign Language in the State to date and it is the continuation of these efforts that will, hopefully, see greater results for the deaf community. It is only through this continued support and partnership between the Government and the deaf community that we can achieve our common goals of improved access to services and greater recognition of Irish Sign Language as the first language of many Irish citizens.
I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive statement, which took 23 minutes and 59 seconds to deliver. I am delighted she is looking so well and I welcome her back.
This is a very important issue.
I assure the Minister of State that I am complimenting her. I found her contribution very interesting and I am delighted she is so well after her setback and that she is working hard again. As she has always recognised this House and has visited it often, I welcome her back.
I too welcome the Minister of State back to the House. It is great to see her looking as fit as a fiddle. Best wishes to her on her return.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. I welcome the representatives from DeafHear and the Irish Deaf Society to the Chamber. There is nothing to disagree with in the motion as it is non-contentious.
It is a little fluffy in the sense that it says we should help people who are hard of hearing and do more for people who are deaf. We need to do a lot more tangible things. The Minister of State has outlined much of the stuff that has been done and all of the positive measures. However, I cannot help thinking that if it was an ethnic group from another country numbering 5,000, the boat would be pushed out further and quicker for those with hearing problems. Of course, we all support the motion.
Senator Mark Daly has worked hard on the Bill and mentioned some aspects of it. We could call it a Government Bill or should do whatever is necessary to get it over the line. While I appreciate there will be a meeting on 4 November that might advance that cause, we should legislate for the full acknowledgment of Irish Sign Language. The State should not offer any service that does not cater for that option. As someone whose mother was substantially deaf in the later stages of her life, I have first-hand experience of the level of isolation she felt as a result of her disability. Even though hearing aids provided for some improvement, it was too late in her life to begin to use Irish Sign Language which she found immensely frustrating. Most of us who can hear were often oblivious to the exclusion she felt.
Whatever costs need to be met, they need to be pushed further up the priority chain. The Minister of State has a difficult job to do with the loaves and fishes in trying to cater for various services, including mental health services and so on. However, we are trying to cater for a very small number of people and ought to be able to do more to ensure the feeling of isolation is kept at bay by providing information in the language through which deaf people choose to communicate.
The Minister of State has made a very comprehensive speech on all that is good. It is the tendency of Ministers in all Governments to come here and tell us how far we have come. When the meeting takes place on 4 November, involving Senators Mark Daly, Martin Conway and other Senators, it is vitally important that we listen to the people who know best - those sitting behind. Rather than telling them how we are doing a good job on their behalf, let them outline for us the specifics in order to provide for them the level of equality to which they are entitled as citizens and for which they naturally yearn. I do not doubt the Minister of State's commitment to the task at hand on any of these issues and ask her to fight the civil servants on this one. Unlike the George Orwell version of equality where some are more equal than others, this time we should ask the people sitting behind me to outline for us the list of things that are most important in improving the acceptability of and access to Irish Sign Language across the country. Let us then get on and do it.
Cuirim fáilte ar ais ar an Aire Stáit. It is good to see her back.
I welcome the members of the deaf community and their advocates to the Visitors Gallery. It is great to see them here. As I normally speak as Gaeilge, I will have to temper my use of language. I am a native Irish speaker and although I cannot relate to the fact that somebody cannot hear or has a hearing impairment, I can relate to the difficulties of culture and language in trying to express oneself in the language in which one is most comfortable. Irish is my native tongue and I always feel more comfortable in speaking it; therefore, I can relate to the frustration of our visitors when they are not given the right to lead their lives fully in the language in which they are most comfortable.
I commend Senators Martin Conway and Cáit Keane for bringing forward this important motion. We have had much debate in the past few months on the sovereignty of the Constitution, but this debate should go to the heart of the question of the rights of citizens. I see this as a rights-based issue, whereby all citizens should be treated equally. Therefore, recognising Irish Sign Language concerns the rights of individual citizens. That is where Sinn Féin is coming from on the issue. It supports and recognises Irish Sign Language as the preferred sign language of the deaf community in the State. The State has to live up to its obligations in that respect. We also agree that it is an expression of a unique, rich and valuable culture. That Irish Sign Language came from the Irish deaf community is unique.
In a previous existence I was a television producer and in its early days worked in TnaG which later became TG4. Coincidentally, one of the groups which tuned in regularly to "Ros na Rún", the soap for which I was a producer, was the deaf community. We never expected this and it was a great surprise. During the years we built up a good following among the deaf community through the use of subtitles. That was a great help and it brought home to me the importance of recognising a minority group in the State of which I had honestly not taken due cognisance previously. It is important to recognise that value in our culture.
Irish Sign Language has an interesting history in that it arose from the deaf community and was developed by deaf people. It is a language that has struggled against official suppression, with the result that it did not receive State recognition until 1972. Being an Irish language speaker, recognition as an official language does not necessarily mean the resources required are provided in order that users can practise it on a daily basis. We have much legislation, policies and strategies for the Irish language, but when it comes to living one's life through the medium of that language, it is very difficult. I note the positive points mentioned by the Minister of State in a comprehensive contribution, but I hazard a guess that if somebody was deaf, although these things are written on paper, the reality in terms of having them available when needed is different. It is also a question of resources being made available in order that the members of the deaf community can use Irish Sign Language when they need to do so.
It is long past time for the State, in conjunction with the deaf community, to develop ideas to improve access to public services for users of Irish Sign Language. I welcome the movements being made. The CEO of the IDS, Mr. Peter Regan, stated:
It is a matter of principle that this motion is passed. The Irish Government signed the UN Human Rights Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, which contains duties towards native sign languages. In addition, an EU Parliamentary resolution from 1988 presented by Irish MEP Eileen Lemass has since been ignored by consecutive Irish Governments, and the more recent Brussels Declaration on Sign Language in the European Union of 2010 urges member states to actively support the use of sign languages.
Although we have taken on board the ethos of the convention, the fact that we have not ratified it since 2007 is simply not good enough for the deaf community in Ireland. I refer not only to this Government, as previous Administrations also did not have it as a high enough priority.
We welcome the Government's targeting of initiatives which would enhance the effective availability of interpreters and interpretation solutions, such as the use of technology for remote access to services. However, I go back to the primary point, that to recognise the language as an official language infers the right to use that language. That is the crux of the issue, that the deaf community in Ireland should be given that right.
The deaf community are citizens of the State and as such, they should be treated with equality and respect. That is what accepting it as an official language would do. They should not be discriminated against, even unwittingly, by the State. However, the failure to officially support the deaf community, and their unique and valuable language and way of life, seriously impacts on their ability to participate fully in Irish life.
We should be taking an all-island approach to these issues. I recognise that strides have been taken in the North to recognise the language and we need to catch up here. If it can be done there, there is no reason it cannot be done here.
It is not acceptable from the national broadcaster that it is at this late stage offering three hours per week of signed programming. I note that the BBC has had signing on its programmes, especially for children, for years. I have often seen it when I am sitting with my children. Although it is a small step, I would contend that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, needs to push them much harder on these issues.
As the issue of the bilateral cochlear implants has been raised, I hope the budget next week will make provision for that. It is something on which we in Sinn Féin have been campaigning for a long time. We included it in our pre-budget submission and I hope the Minister for Finance will do so.
I welcome the initiatives. I welcome what the Minister of State has said. However, as the CEO has said, so far the Government has only paid lip-service to the European Union and the United Nations. This is a moment of action and an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its sincerity on a long-standing issue. The time for action is now. Since 2007, the deaf community have been waiting. It is time to ratify and recognise the language. I am sure that the motion will get the full support in the Houses. I thank the deaf community for coming.
I thank the Minister of State for coming and making a comprehensive statement on this matter. I thank Senators Martin Conway and Cáit Keane for bringing forward the motion, which is welcome.
Everything I wanted to say has been said and I just want to touch on two points. First, I thank the Minister of State for taking the initiative she is now taking in this matter. It is not a case of merely sitting around. I note she is decisive on this issue and that she will be taking action on it, which I welcome.
My recollection is of a good school in Douglas in Cork which deals with young children who are deaf. The year I was lord mayor it was interesting to visit that school. It is one of my fondest memories. In Cork city, the lord mayor visits 102 schools over a six-week time period. The amazing aspect about visiting that school, which has a large number of children who are deaf but also has children who are not deaf, was to see the communication going on. Obviously, they were making comments and these may not have been complimentary of the lord mayor. They were having their own conversation and it was brilliant to see the interaction between them there that morning. It is something that always sticks in my mind from that six weeks of school visits. By the way, my apologies. I welcome all of the representatives from the deaf community and all of the organisations who are here this evening.
An issue I came across two or three years ago relates to the elderly who are deaf. I came across 45 such persons in individual nursing homes across the country where there was no communication available to them within the service and there was no co-ordination about having, for example, a number of them living in the same accommodation. It was not taken into account. I found it quite sad that there was nothing being offered to them and it was like being put in solitary confinement in their nursing home. Every one of them was physically and mentally well, but they just had no one available with whom to communicate. I thought it was sad that we had done very little on that issue. I would ask that the issue be looked at within each HSE area. We have broken it up into a number of different areas. It is something that the HSE should take on board, that where persons who are deaf require nursing home care, we should not automatically put them where they are on their own and we should try to work towards having them together so that they can communicate with one another. It would be helpful. It has been ignored for quite a long time but it is something that we should look at. That is my only point because every other point I wanted to make here has already been made by the previous speakers. I only ask that that would be looked at.
I thank the Senators for bringing forward this motion and everyone who has contributed to the debate.
I also welcome the Minister of State. I am happy to see she is back in full bloom. With my colleagues, I welcome all of the representatives of the deaf community here in Ireland.
I am particularly aware of the disability that deafness brings in one area because I have spent much of my working life as a broadcaster. I can remember when I started first that I became aware of the blind community, who relied to a considerable extent on radio. It was following on that awareness that I became more acutely aware of the significant disadvantage that both the hard of hearing and the deaf had in that what we take for granted - the music of all genres that we enjoy when we switch on the radio - is completely denied to all of these people and to their contemporaries. Of course, one could say that as television developed, those who were blind have suffered from being denied the access whereas those who are deaf have got, as a result of modern technology, at least some access to broadcasting. In that context, I welcome the Minister of State's reference in her comprehensive presentation, for which I compliment her, as I know she has already been complimented by the Acting Chairman and others, that the "Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is committed to continuing to pursue, with RTE, delivery of television programmes with Irish Sign Language in line with this legislation and the commitment given in the national disability strategy implementation plan and in this regard mainstream programming with Irish Sign Language interpretation is due to commence on 16 October covering three hours per week approximately". That is a welcome initiative. It is a small step. I am aware, from discussions with my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, that while this initiative is to be welcomed, in line with other public institutions, it does not legally oblige RTE to provide this service. It is doing it because, obviously, the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and her Department have put the pressure on it to do this, if that were necessary. In fairness, to RTE, I am sure that it acquiesced easily anyway and responded favourably.
However, it points to the weakness in the argument put forward by the Government. The lack of legislation does not make it legally obligatory for a public institution to provide the type of service that it might now be providing on a piecemeal basis or, to the best of its ability, on a more comprehensive basis. That is why I believe the passage of legislation would help the deaf community considerably. It has been campaigning for that for well over 30 years.
My main reason for standing to speak today was to express solidarity with the deaf community, not to offer some great pearls of wisdom to the debate. We are with the community in every way possible and we hope the Government will see fit to look favourably on Senator Mark Daly's Bill when he introduces it. I read it today and it is very comprehensive. It has almost 30 sections and covers all the aspects of the debate and the argument put forward by the Irish Sign Language recognition group and the deaf community over several decades. It also takes account of international best practice.
I compliment the 16 local authorities which have passed motions calling for ISL recognition in the last 12 months and I call on the remaining local authorities to do this. Perhaps the town councils, as one of their final acts in the months to come, will take up this cause. As a politician, the Minister knows there is nothing more effective than continuing and persistent lobbying. If one keeps banging the wall long enough and loud enough, the Government listens. I wish the community well in that regard.
I welcome the members of the deaf community and their advocates to the Visitors Gallery. I also welcome the Minister of State. It is good to see her again.
It is welcome that the Government is accepting this good and worthy proposal. I must admit my knowledge of this subject is rather incomplete, but in the course of researching for the debate I was amazed by some of the information I uncovered. There are 40,000 users of Irish Sign Language. That is probably equivalent to the population of Dundalk, the home town of my colleague, Senator Moran. Imagine not recognising Dundalk. That puts it into context.
I also did not know that Irish Sign Language was unique. That uniqueness is recognised in the Good Friday Agreement and in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. That is a significant step in moving the argument - slowly, of course - in the right direction. Apart from the vital aspect of Irish Sign Language being a communication tool, it is important to note its linguistic and cultural value. Culture and language are the essence of what we are as a people. That is very important. We should all strive to ensure that people are allowed and helped in every way possible to express themselves in their own language.
It is welcome that Senators Martin Conway, Cáit Keane, Mark Daly and Mary Moran have brought the motion before the House. However, not only have the four Senators done that, they have also been very active on this issue in the two and a half years of this Seanad's term. The Seanad has a role in this regard and there is an obligation on it to do anything it can, both here and outside, to achieve progress in this area. It is vital that it does so.
Senator Mark Daly outlined some of the difficulties faced by the deaf community without official recognition of Irish Sign Language. He is right to point out that our legislative and international obligations in this area are not what they should be. However, the Minister of State is quite correct. It has been said that we might be only paying lip service to this issue, but if we were to ratify the convention without having the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill and other structures in place, we could then be legitimately accused of paying lip service to it. It is not a matter of speedy introduction but, more importantly, proper introduction. It is a matter of equality, decency and legality. I assure the deaf community and anybody who cares to listen to the Seanad debate - sometimes not many do - that I, as Labour Party spokesperson on health, and the Labour Party are fully committed to promoting the full recognition of Irish Sign Language. It is in the programme for Government, which is also important.
I commend the Minister of State for her response. I do not think I have seen such a comprehensive response delivered in this Chamber by anybody. It is welcome that she will take a personal interest in this issue. The Minister of State is in my constituency and my party colleague and I know that when she says she will take an interest in something, she certainly does so. The technological advances in this area are very exciting and there are exciting possibilities of further advances. Not surprisingly, the video was produced by the Revenue Commissioners to help people pay their tax. Perhaps we should ask them not to be so innovative in this area.
As everything I wanted to say has been said, it is unhelpful to repeat it. I reassure everybody that the Labour Party and I, as spokesperson, are fully committed to this issue. I commend the proposers of the motion and wish them well in their endeavours.
This has been a very interesting debate. I thank the contributors from all sides of the House. Each group except one was represented. I also commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for her extremely comprehensive synopsis of what the Government is doing in every area, from the Revenue Commissioners and education to social welfare and the various pilot initiatives. They are all extremely welcome, but we are still a long way from Utopia and from where we need to be in terms of equality of access to information for members of the deaf community.
I agree with the Minister of State that there is no point in having legislation that creates requirements that are of little, if any, benefit to members of the deaf community. We must have legislation that is targeted to ensure there is access to information that is used, in the first instance, and that will create and enrich the equality to which we all subscribe. Legislation can be tailored to ensure resources are not wasted, as they have been with some Irish publications. In the case of a county development plan, for example, the county council is legally required to translate it into Irish even if nobody buys it. We all believe in the equality of the Irish language, but that type of situation is bizarre. I believe members of the deaf community would not wish to see that happen but would wish to see resources channelled in the correct way.
The Minister of State had some positive news with regard to the theme of the meeting that is due to take place on 4 November. In addition, there will be the discourse surrounding Senator Mark Daly's Bill when it is published. Furthermore, there is the module of the justice committee that will hopefully hold hearings after Christmas. It will seek submissions, and that will be followed, we hope, by hearings by the committee at which this issue can be discussed. Recommendations can then be sent to the Government.
Everybody agrees with the principle of equality in access to information and I believe everybody agrees with recognition. However, how to go about securing that recognition is probably where the difficulties lie. For that reason, we need communication and discussions. We also need to examine best practice.
If necessary, we need to establish best practice. We can do things better in this country. We led the way with the smoking ban. When he was Minister for Health, the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, showed enormous courage by taking on the tobacco industry and introducing a smoking ban. This is a simple example of how we set best practice which is now replicated almost throughout the world, certainly in the developed world. We can lead the way with Irish Sign Language, ensuring that resources are properly spent and facilitate the kind of equality all of us, certainly the members of the deaf community, desire.
The initiatives outlined in detail by the Minister of State are very welcome. They will enrich people's lives but we need more of them. I am committed to the recognition of Irish Sign Language and believe some sort of legislative form must be brought to this. That is what people in the deaf community expect and I completely understand their viewpoint. However, it must be done right, in a way that achieves what we want it to achieve. Like other speakers, I have seen many laws enacted in this country that are ineffective. There is no point in having a law that is ineffective; we need effective laws that will ensure young people in the deaf community have access to employment and education, culture and all other activities to which people have a legitimate expectation of access.
There is a job of work to be done. We have taken an extremely important step forward. It looks as if this motion will be agreed unanimously which sends a clear message to the Government that this issue, at least from the perspective of Seanad Éireann, is taken very seriously. It also sends the clear message to our colleagues in Dáil Éireann that Seanad Éireann is championing the recognition of Irish Sign Language and puts it up to that House to pass a similar motion. I encourage people in the Visitors Gallery to start lobbying their Deputiess and get one of them to sponsor a motion similar to this in Dáil Éireann. If the move comes from both Houses of the Oireachtas it will definitely send the clear message to the Government that we want further action.
We are lucky that the Minister of State is the person responsible in the Department because she is someone who gets things done. During my time in the House she has attended the Chamber probably more than any other Minister of State. When she speaks she does so honestly and when she acts she gets results. Members of the deaf community can rest assured they have a very good champion in this Minister of State.
I commend Dr. John Bosco Conoma who approached me about this issue in the first instance. I have had numerous discussions with him and have learned a lot about Irish Sign Language. I am glad that Members of the House learned a great deal when they researched for tonight's motion and hope this debate will have informed them further. We hope there are brighter days ahead in terms of the recognition of Irish Sign Language. I thank everybody who contributed. I am delighted the motion has received unanimous support from all sections of the House.
I thank Senator Martin Conway and his colleagues for proposing the motion. Senator Cáit Keane was also involved. I thank the sign language interpreters for their excellent work. I have been in the Seanad for more than 11 years and this is the first time I have experienced this work in the House. I thank the audience for coming here and for their attention to the genuine contributions of Members. I thank the Minister of State and her staff. It has been an excellent exercise in democracy. I hope some day colleagues of the members of the audience will be sitting in this House and that it will be required to have sign language used in the Chamber. That would be a marvellous breakthrough and I hope it happens. It has happened in other areas and it would be a wonderful event. I am proud to have been in the Chair for this historic event. I thank all for being present.
It was remiss of me not to pay tribute to the signers who had to listen to us and regurgitate what we have been saying for the past two hours. I thank them. It is great to see sign interpreters in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The motion was agreed to unanimously. When is it proposed to sit again?
At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 October 2013.