I welcome the sign language interpreters and ask speakers to be conscious of them and to speak at a steady pace, that is, not too fast.
Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who I know has a personal commitment to equality and this issue for coming to the House. I acknowledge all those who have campaigned in the past weeks, months and years for this legislation on the recognition of Irish Sign Language for the deaf community. I also acknowledge the presence of pupils from Bishopstown community school. Councillor Mary Shields has brought me to many of the schools in Bishopstown in the past while. We also have students from Our Lady of Lourdes secondary school, New Ross, who have been supporting this legislation and lobbying, as all active citizens should, their public representatives on this important issue. In particular, I welcome the members of the Irish Deaf Society and the members of the deaf community to their parliament.
The Bill which has been spoken about on a number of occasions will be dedicated to the memory of the McCarthy brothers. These Kerrymen who lived in Dublin died in tragic circumstances and isolated in their own community. I think we all agree with the words of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality which stated they had suffered extreme marginalisation, as do many members of the deaf community.
The best example of extreme marginalisation of those in the deaf community is to be found in an anecdote. When their advocacy funding was cut, they received a letter which informed them that they could call the Department to discuss the issue. I had to call the Department and inform it that the members of the deaf community could not call it. With much embarrassment, the Department stated they could write.
The fact that they could not access their own parliament, as any other citizen accesses it, owing to the lack of legislation giving them equal rights, is a more stark example of why the Bill is necessary. When the advocacy funding was cut, we decided to organise a protest. It was, however, not to be a protest outside the Parliament, but one inside it. Needless to say, it was to be a silent protest. We asked that the members of the deaf community be allowed into the Visitors Gallery of Dáil Éireann, their parliament, and that sign language interpreters would be allowed into the Dáil Chamber to let them understand what was going on. We were told it was not possible.
They are in the Seanad Chamber.
They can do it here. We were told that members of the deaf community could go to the audio-visual room, away from the Parliament, and that interpreters would be accommodated there for them. Nothing screams inequality as much as the fact that one cannot go to one's own parliament to understand what is going on. After I leaked this to the newspapers - it is no secret that I do that from time to time-----
-----it became an issue of concern for the previous Dáil. The head of communications asked to meet me in the light of the bad publicity brought upon Parliament because we had highlighted inequality. The director of communications-----
The Senator cannot refer to-----
There have been so many of them, no one would know which one of them it was.
The person is identifiable.
The person is not identifiable because there have been so many of them.
As we all know who it is, it is all right.
I do not want Senator Mark Daly naming people or making them identifiable by way of title.
I am doing it to highlight the issue. With members of the Irish Deaf Society, I was requested to attend the meeting with officials, one of whom was in charge of communications. At that meeting, having been lectured to for five minutes, I eventually pointed out-----
That person is not here to defend himself. The Senator should not be unfair.
-----the inequality of what was going on owing to the lack of an interpreter. The officials had asked for a meeting with members of the deaf community on an issue that was important to them, yet they had not brought to that meeting in Parliament an interpreter for citizens who were deaf.
That is a fair point.
The Senator may think so, but I am in the Chair.
After being lectured for five minutes, I pointed out that no interpreter was present and so the only person who could understand what was being said was me. I had left an interpreter outside the room to make the point that in the Irish Parliament citizens were not equal.
Interpreters were provided in the Dáil Chamber when 200 members of the deaf community came here. I like to give praise when it is due. Senator Martin Conway will be happy to hear that the former Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, came out of the Chamber and assured them that their advocacy funding would be reinstated, as it should be. Nobody needs advocates more than those who cannot communicate with Parliament. That is a stark example, if it was needed, of the extreme marginalisation of the deaf community. The Bill is necessary not only for Parliament to understand why we need to treat all citizens of the nation equally but because it is a life and death issue. While we have procedures of sorts in place in emergency departments there is no requirement for health services to have in place procedures for members of the deaf community. With funding issues causing pressure across the health services, we need protocols in place and legislation that require the provision in emergency departments, other Departments and local authorities of services for members of the deaf community. I again praise Deputy Joan Burton who when Minister for Social Protection put in place a system in that Department which ensured interpreters are made available to members of the deaf community, most of whom, because of their circumstance, require social welfare assistance. How does one access social welfare assistance if one does not know one's rights? As a result of the actions of a particular Minister, this is no longer a problem area.
The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, will be aware that we are breaching international law. Provision is made in the Good Friday Agreement for Ulster Scots, Irish Sign Language and British Sign Language. In Northern Ireland, Irish Sign Language and British Sign Language are underpinned by legislation. People have rights in regard to communicating with the state be that by way of Irish Sign Language, British Sign Language, the Irish language, English or Ulster Scots. In the South, we have ignored the international agreement we signed up to. We do not recognise Irish Sign Language even though we committed in the Good Friday Agreement to putting it on a legislative footing.
When it comes to communications with Departments, modern technology allows this to happen without the need for interpreters. There are already in place systems and services that allow online interpretation. This means that a member of the deaf community who is in Dublin can interact effectively and efficiently with, say, Kerry County Council without an interpreter. I know that the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, is committed to this cause. This is not an easy issue. The Bill also crosses the remit of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and RTE, the national broadcaster, which is another reason for the enactment of this legislation. There are guidelines in respect of the provision of sign language interpretation on our national airwaves and in regard to captions for programming. However, these are only guidelines and there is no consequences for not adhering to them. RTE, the national broadcaster, which receives hundreds of millions of euro in taxpayers' money does not even meet those guidelines for the most marginalised in our community. The most watched programme by the deaf community is not "Coronation Street" or any other soap opera such as "Emmerdale", it is "Ros na Rún" because it has captions and subtitles. What we are attempting to do by way of this Bill is ensure that members of the deaf community can understand what is going on in the outside world not only in terms of entertainment but in terms of news.
I was delighted to be at the launch of the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I thank members of that committee, some of whom are members of this House, who following two weeks of hearings on this issue recommended that this legislation be supported by the Government. I also thank the Chairman, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who recommended the passing of this Bill, which is a rare event in itself. The key point, repeatedly referenced in that report, is the "extreme marginalisation" of members of the deaf community. That is the issue we are addressing today.
I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was involved in many of the 1916 Rising commemorations. On the issues faced by the deaf community, the most quoted line from the Proclamation is "...cherishing all of the children of the nation equally". I will end on this anecdote. During the commemorative parade in Dublin of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, some members of the deaf community could not understand what the commentator was saying. While there were sign language interpretation for those on the streets, members of the deaf community who were at home could not understand what the commentator was saying. Again, it was a lack of understanding on the part of the hearing community of the issues faced by members of the deaf community. I hope the Minister of State will support the Bill not only on this Stage but also on Committee Stage when work in terms of amendments and necessary improvements to it will be dealt with. Fianna Fáil looks forward to its amendments in that regard being accepted and to working with the Government and various agencies to ensure the ambition of the Proclamation that all we cherish all of the children of the nation equally is fulfilled.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to take the Bill. I also thank him for his support for this cause in the past few years.
I take the opportunity to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I also welcome the members of the Irish deaf community and the many school children in the Visitors Gallery. That the Visitors Gallery is full shows how important the Bill is.
It is an honour for me to second the Bill. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, for his dogged commitment to the Bill which deals with an issue on which he has tirelessly campaigned for over six years. He brought the Bill before the House on two separate occasions during the lifetime of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government but on each occasion it was rejected. I am hopeful there will be a change of heart on this occasion and that the Bill will receive cross-party support today. I also pay tribute to the Irish Deaf Society which has been campaigning on this issue for over 30 years.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, I was delighted to support our report which recommends the passage of the Bill. We were fortunate enough to have excellent contributions from members of the Irish deaf community who outlined to us in stark terms the hurdles facing their community when trying to access the health system, the justice system and the education system. They also outlined how transformative it would be if Irish Sign Language was recognised as a native and independent language. The contributions were all the more poignant when we learned a short time after these presentations to the committee of the tragic deaths of brothers of Daniel and William McCarthy in their own home. This illustrated the urgent need for the rights of members of the deaf community in Ireland to be officially recognised and to end the social isolation experienced by them. Recognition of the Bill and Irish Sign Language would allow members of the deaf community to play a full part in society, something we should all support and encourage.
I call on all Members to support the Bill strongly.
I welcome the representatives of the deaf community to the Chamber, many of whom I have got to know in recent years as a result of the very intensive and appropriate campaign they, in particular Dr. John Bosco Conama, have run. I also welcome the students from Bishopstown. I received their correspondence. It is great when young people go to the trouble of writing to Oireachtas Members to try to influence legislation. I also acknowledge Councillor Mary Shields who, with others, has campaigned during the years. I am convinced that it will happen.
I join Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee in acknowledging the contribution of Senator Mark Daly in dealing with this issue. He tabled the Bill twice during the lifetime of the previous Government and it is regrettable it did not at least reach Committee Stage because if that had happened we would be significantly down the road now. I am delighted to be able to say that on this occasion that it is third time lucky, the Government will not oppose the passing of this Bill on Second Stage. I am possibly stealing the thunder of the Minister of State, but it is widely known that it will not be opposed.
I might as well go home now.
All of my colleagues have been e-mailing like mad members of the deaf community to inform them that it will be passed on Second Stage. It was the best or worst kept secret, but it is the right thing to do and we are all here to do the right thing. This is a classic example of the new politics. People such as Senator Mark Daly and I who are on opposite sides in many debates are at one on this issue, as are the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, Sinn Féin and all of my good friends and colleagues on the Independent benches. We all want to see this happen. Yet again, Seanad Éireann has stood up to the plate to deliver something tangible which will really make a difference to the lives of well in excess of 5,000 citizens of the country who are among the most marginalised not because they do not have the intelligence, ability or focused determination which many of the rest of us possess but because society has not provided them with the equipment and the level playing pitch that facilitates equality. What society can call itself a society of equals, one that represents equals, when people cannot go to a public office and gain access to simple information on their entitlements? It is crazy. The one section of society which has been forward-thinking in this regard is educational institutions. I pay tribute to Trinity College Dublin, in particular, and other third level colleges which have done their duty to ensure people can obtain qualifications, degrees and diplomas, and have access to information.
I agree with the Deputy Mark Daly that RTE is a thundering disgrace. It is shocking to think Ros na Rún is the only tangible option available to members of the deaf community simply because the captions necessary for them to watch other soap operas are not provided. This organisation has a public service obligation, but it is not honouring it for the deaf community. Everyone sees the interpretation of the news for three or four minutes before the main bulletin at night, but this is not enough. In a modern era on the eve of ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a five or ten minute tick the box exercise by the national broadcaster is not something that should be acceptable. The Minister of State should be banging down the door every day of the week, telling RTE that it needs to get its act together and live up to its responsibilities in this regard. Then again, how can the Minister of State do this when the Bill is still on the books and not been passed? How can the Government, irrespective of what political party or creed it is, take on public bodies and point to their obligations and responsibilities when we as a House have not legislated properly and effectively to deal with it?
In the previous term members of the deaf community attended the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and I were proud members. They did so again this term, under the chairmanship of Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee is quite right - it was a very powerful interaction. They provided practical examples of how they simply could not connect or communicate because of the lack of availability of interpreters. The lack of a right to the availability of interpreters is frightening. There are approximately 40 or 50 qualified interpreters in the country and there is no continuous professional training available to them. All of this will have to change. I am clearly of the view that the Bill will pass not just through this House. When we put it up to them, Members of the other House will have little option but to pass it because, thankfully, we are in the era of new politics which can ensure the voices of small minority groups are heard. When the Bill is passed into law, the responsibility will very much fall on the State to put the necessary structures in place. Perhaps the young people from Bishopstown might consider doing a degree course in sign language interpretation because plenty of work will be available.
The Bill must be passed and we all have an obligation to ensure it does, but it will not be easy. As Senator Mark Daly said, the work will begin on Committee Stage when the Government will outline the practical challenges and Senators will try to identify ways to overcome them. The fact that Seanad Éireann will pass the Bill on Second Stage today means that it agrees with the principle that we need to extend recognition to Irish Sign Language. This is a very good day not just for members of the deaf community who are citizens but also Seanad Éireann. I look forward to the rest of the debate and hope that within a short period we will see the Bill passed into law.
I am sharing time with Senator Victor Boyhan.
This is certainly a day of debate on justice and equality issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is very welcome. I commend Senator Mark Daly for bringing the Bill before the House again. It is clear that he has shown great commitment to this most important cause. The Bill is primarily about equality, ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and I will lend it my full support. Recognition of Irish Sign Language by the State is something that should have occurred many years ago. Irish Sign Language is recognised in Northern Ireland but not in the Republic. The lack of recognition impacts on members of the deaf community in almost all of their interactions with the State, in education, health care provision and even the justice system, ultimately marginalising them.
This is a matter which affects almost 40,000 citizens. Irish Sign Language is used by deaf people, their families, friends and colleagues. Members of the deaf community do not have the same access to public services as other citizens. Lack of access to Irish Sign Language in education, in particular, is a source of great concern. It impacts further on the employability of members of the deaf community. As such, many members of the deaf community feel marginalised, economically and socially. This important legislation should provide improved access for members of the deaf community to education services, benefiting, in particular, the youth and, I hope, reducing their sense of marginalisation.
Within the justice system, excluding criminal court proceedings, there is no automatic right of deaf people to an Irish Sign Language interpreter. This is available in Northern Ireland but not here in the Republic. As a state, we need to be able to afford this to citizens as a basic right. Without the protections in law inscribed in the Bill, deaf people will continue to face these barriers throughout their lives. I am voting in favour of the Bill as I hope it will bring about real change and equality for the deaf community in Ireland.
I welcome representatives of the deaf community to Seanad Éireann and thank them for coming. I also welcome the Minister of State. I acknowledge the enormous work Senator Mark Daly has done on the matter. He has my absolute support. The campaign has been run in a very professional way. I have been amazed since my entry into the Seanad by the amount of correspondence, emails, telephone calls, very strategic canvassing, working, mobilising and exercising and advocating for this position and commend all of the people involved because that is what real democracy is about.
I thought last night of drafting a few words at my kitchen table about the Bill and prepared them. Then I came in this morning to find a letter from a 17 year old student from Waterpark in Carrigaline, County Cork. I want to share some of it with the House because it crystalises and summarises everything about this issue.
[I] am proudly Deaf. I am 17 years old. I go to Bishopstown Community School in Cork. My first language is Irish Sign Language (ISL) and I am using it to communicate with my friends and my family since I cannot speak. I am writing this letter to ask you to pass the law for Irish Sign Language to be recognised. I think it's extremely important that we, deaf people, have our primary language which is Irish Sign Language recognised. Deaf people have fought for the bill for Irish Sign Language to be recognised for many years. My primary language is Irish Sign Language and I love learning different ... languages such as American Sign Language. In fact, ... the United States of America have already passed the law for American Sign Language (ASL) to be recognised. [In] other countries such as Finland, Finnish Sign Language is already recognised there in 1995, 21 years ago! That was before I was ... born ... My disability doesn't stop [and shouldn't stop] me reaching my goal [and my potential].
A young woman came to visit me in my school on Thursday 6th of October ... She is a Mexican deaf person who works in the White House in America as a receptionist to Barack Obama. The first deaf receptionist. This amazes me a lot. She is an inspiration to me ... Please can you pass this bill for Irish Sign Language to be passed and recognised as a third official language? I would be extremely happy. It would end the "silent war" between deaf people and the government. This would give ... people more equality and more rights.
Thank you for your time and your concern to read this letter.
Why would I not read it at says it all? I urge all of us to come together and unite in support of the Bill, not only here today but also as it progresses. We can pass all the legislation and Bills we want, but I appeal to the Minister for the necessary resources and funding to give effect to them.
Is cúis bróid agus sonais dom go bhfuil mé in ann ardú chun tacú leis an mBille seo inniu. A part of me thinks that maybe the rest of us would be wise to shut up and not say any more because Senator Victor Boyhan was right: that letter very much said it all. I have been overwhelmed and very impressed by the level of correspondence to us in the past few weeks, not least from the students of Bishopstown. I sat down, like Senator Victor Boyhan, to write a speech to fill eight minutes. However, when I reflected on and thought about the contribution the Irish Deaf Society made at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality a few weeks ago, its representatives did not work off any notes or prepared speeches or statements. All of it came from a very sincere, personal experience. I thought I would try to do the same because of the thoughtfulness we encountered at that presentation in the committee. The presentation was very profound in its simplicity. I say that because it took a presentation and an engagement like that with the deaf community for someone like me, and I am sure many others on the committee, to realise the very basic, small and sometimes minute levels to which the difficulties faced by deaf citizens go. It is about accessing hospital care, getting into shops, what TV programmes they are able to watch and access to the courts and the criminal justice system. The range therefore goes from the macro elements that are so significant and important aspects of many of our lives right down to the mundane, day-to-day things.
Senator Mark Daly who has done sterling and powerful work on this campaign referred to this important year of the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the challenge that era and the Proclamation throw down to us to fulfil the aspirations contained in it that we cherish all the children of the nation equally and that we afford rights and equality to all citizens. That is what the Bill and this issue is about. It is as simple as that. It is about human rights, equality of access, equality of service, equality of aspiration and equality of ability.
Reflecting on it from a personal perspective, I was trying to relate to the difficulties and the issues faced by deaf citizens. While Irish Sign Language and British Sign Language are legislatively recognised in the North, the Irish language, which is the language in which I was brought up and educated, is not afforded those legislative or legal protections. While I have the luxury - when one listens to the issues faced by members of the deaf community, it is a luxury - of being able to communicate in a second language, I do relate to the issue of not being recognised or not being afforded the same rights or entitlements based on something so personal to someone; something so deep-rooted in someone; something so simple; something that is in the first instance merely a form of communication; and something used as a tool to share one's passions, concerns, fears and love. It is as simple as that and that is all people want and that they deserve, as modest and simple a request as it is. Therefore, I commend the motion which has my full support and that of Sinn Féin.
Senator Victor Boyhan made a critical point when he said we could pass all the Bills we wished. I do not doubt the sincerity of all the contributions that have been made and will be made in the time ahead, but this needs to be resourced. It needs the adequate resources to go alongside it to ensure we have not just wasted everyone's time here today; that the students, in particular those from Bishopstown who have joined us today, can take a degree of hope and faith when they leave this Chamber today; that we, as the second House, the Upper House of the Oireachtas, will work on their behalf and will stand up diligently for their rights and entitlements; and that the Bill, while in one aspect a culmination of a campaign, is I hope just the first step on another journey, that is, a journey of the deaf community having full rights, full entitlements and full recognition by the State.
May I share one minute or so of my time with Senator Jerry Buttimer, please?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State. Are we committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities or are we merely paying lip service to it? It is right and proper that we meet the needs of these vulnerable people. Currently, we have over 5,000 users of Irish Sign Language in the State and it is fair that public services provide them with interpretation services when questions of statutory entitlement are at issue.
What do we mean by inclusion? We mean that all people with all types of disabilities are part of our society. However, living in the community is not enough. People with disabilities have the same right to participate fully in society if they choose. Without access to language, many people with hearing impairments do not have that choice. People with disabilities have a right to competence and have a right to any adaptations they need to show that competence. Above all, people with disabilities have the right to the same dignity and respect as every other citizen.
Our accomplishment as a society is measured by the extent to which people with disability achieve those rights. Recognising Irish Sign Language as the third official language of the State would render our society far more equal than it is now. The Bill is important not just for people with hearing impairment. Like the marriage equality Bill, the Bill is about our maturity as a society. It is about our growing ability to embrace diversity. It is about equality. It is good for all of us. I am happy and proud to support it.
I thank all those who contacted me and others so respectfully and so appropriately over the last number of weeks, especially the lovely notes that came from the students of Bishopstown community school. I also received the same letter as Senator Victor Boyhan and I have to admit it was an eye-opener.
Before I conclude and give Senator Jerry Buttimer a few minutes of my time, I have to say I think the students in Bishopstown school should have at least a week off school, or if not that, perhaps a week off homework.
The Senator is trying to curry favour.
I thank Senator Gabrielle McFadden for sharing some of her time with me. As a former teacher in Bishopstown community school, I welcome the students and staff and thank them for their advocacy and ongoing work.
The campaign of advocacy they ran, including Alan's lovely letter, touched not just those of us in this Chamber but our staff also. This is a very important day. On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting Cork Deaf Enterprises in Ballinlough in Cork city and of speaking with the men and women of the deaf community in order to listen and understand better the struggle and the difficulties they encounter but, more importantly, that they overcome and can celebrate in the lives they live.
Our job, as legislators and as Members of this House, no matter what our political ideology or hue, is to try to make life better for all citizens. As Members have referenced, it is about equal access and about working with the Government rather than the Government working against this. The important point today is that this House will not be divided and, from what I gather, we will all support the Bill. We are fortunate that in the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and before him, the former Minister of State, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, we have people who understand the impact of disability and the importance of working together to bring change, as members of political parties or otherwise.
I invite Members to visit Cork Deaf Enterprises and to talk to the people in Bishopstown community school who have been pioneers over many decades in highlighting and in bringing change for members of the deaf community. As Leader of the House, I know that it is important that we understand this legislation is not perfect. I commend Senator Mark Daly for his work in the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. We must ensure we use this day, not as the beginning or the end, but as a staging post on the road to what we all want to see, namely, recognition of Irish Sign Language and making life better for all citizens in order that we can all enjoy and celebrate life.
I wish to share time with Senator Lynn Ruane.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the citizens from the deaf community and Bishopstown community school. I commend Senator Mark Daly for the fantastic work he has done at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on the issue of the Irish Sign Language Bill and in bringing the legislation forward. As I was not aware of this, I appreciate the education I received on this issue at the committee. I was initially appalled when I realised Irish Sign Language was not officially recognised in this country, despite the fact the deaf community use it on a daily basis to communicate with their loved ones, educators, statutory agencies and advocators.
As I have said before and will say again, we are judged in this country by how we treat our fellow citizens. It is a disgrace that, in 2016, the nation does not recognise Irish Sign Language. It is imperative that we ensure Irish Sign Language receive the full recognition it deserves and that those who use it get full and equal access to information via Irish Sign Language. No child in this country should suffer at school due to the lack of teachers qualified in Irish Sign Language. We want to build a nation of well educated young people, regardless of the barriers that are in front of us. Every person who engages with Government bodies on a daily basis has a right to receive information in a way they understand and can use to communicate. It is rare that Irish Sign Language is made available in Government and statutory agencies. Senator Mark Daly has brought up the issue and we should not shy away from wanting to provide this service. By doing so, we are embracing social inclusion and equality for the deaf community.
Senator John Dolan makes his apologies for not being present today because he is away in Brussels. He is working tirelessly to ensure the Government ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To use one's own language is an important human right. The convention mentions sign language in its five articles. We should do the right thing and ratify the convention and recognise Irish sign language officially. The European Parliament has passed two resolutions calling on member states to recognise their respective national sign languages but only five EU countries have done so - Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom We have not been shy in implementing what Europe has asked us to do in the past, so why have we stalled on this for such a long time?
The cross-community groups of deaf-related organisations should be commended for their outstanding campaign, and we have received lovely letters in the past few weeks. We should also commend the councillors in counties Donegal and Limerick who voted to have Irish Sign Language recognised at a national level. As elected representatives, we have a duty to tear down the barriers and make equality of opportunity a national right by implementing the Bill. We will be on the right side of history for the deaf community in Ireland. If we get Irish Sign Language recognition, this will ensure more legal rights for Irish Sign Language users, better access to public services, better education for deaf children, better third level education and training for deaf adults and better interpreting, quality and monitoring. We have nothing to fear from this and we should embrace it.
I thank Senator Mark Daly for bringing the Bill before the House. I am delighted to be here on the second or third occasion it is debated and hope to see it passed. I also thank Dr. John Bosco Conama and everyone from the Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College Dublin for their work on the Bill and their ongoing dedication to fighting for equality for the deaf community.
For the approximately 5,000 deaf people in Ireland, the lack of language recognition has had the effect of ingraining discrimination into their everyday lives. It has exacerbated the problems of isolation for most. We saw earlier this year a court in County Donegal proceed with a case when the defendant was deaf and had no interpreter present.
We would be up in arms about that situation if it happened to one of our citizens facing court proceedings abroad where they did not understand the native language. Here we allow such an obvious violation of a person's human rights to take place.
Unfortunately, there are those inequalities throughout the State, in the health system and education services. The incredibly sad deaths of Daniel and William McCarthy earlier this month, tragically brought to the fore the extent of the social isolation endured by members of the deaf community. I have spoken about this recently in Trinity College Dublin and feel the need to say it again as a community development worker. If someone like a community development worker never made the effort to communicate at all with those two brothers, in their very small community of Bluebell, what chance do others have? Their own community services did not recognise them. People who have disabilities are more likely to experience income poverty than the rest of society.
Among the deaf community the statistics speak for themselves. People who are deaf have significantly lower employment expectations with only 40% in employment, well below society's average. Those who are employed are likely to be paid low wages, they are significantly less likely to go to college and in many cases have low life expectancy. As it stands, service providers are under no obligation to recognise sign language. Children who are deaf do not have the right to education through Irish Sign Language. There are no automatic rights to interpreters and the Government has continuously failed to recognise the rights of children who are deaf, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under Article 2 of the convention, children are entitled to access all the rights of the convention without discrimination. In Ireland, however, children who are deaf are being indirectly discriminated against as they are not guaranteed access to the curriculum through the medium of Irish Sign Language, their first language. This means that the child cannot always fully participate in and benefit from education, that his or her language and cultural needs are unmet and that he or she is hindered in achieving educational outcomes on a par with his or her hearing peers. Ireland is just one of three countries in Europe yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, has given a commitment to address this and I hope he will do so without delay in order that Ireland can join the other 167 countries that have ratified the convention.
Hearing people need to shift their focus from thinking of deafness as a purely medical phenomenon and we need to attempt to understand that there is a culture and a language that we have ignored and that deafness becomes problematic because of the discrimination inflicted by society. If Irish Sign Language is viewed as a minority language rather than as a disability, it will help us to understand it better. When people who are deaf gather together, for example in the deaf village in Cabra, there is no communication barrier and no discrimination. It is only when they leave that setting that their language becomes a problem or a disability because we have not catered for their inclusion. We make their language a disability.
It is perhaps because those 5,000 people are spread across the State they have not been a powerful enough lobby group to make politicians care about their issues, but that should not be our motivation. We should be motivated to do the right thing. Suppressing their right to self expression is an attack on their human rights. We need to stop discriminating against these citizens and ensure they are given the same rights as everyone else. The lack of language recognition has led to the disempowering of one of the most socially excluded groups in the country. We have the chance now to take a stride forward by recognising Irish Sign Language and by ensuring all children who are deaf have access to education through sign language. We should also be teaching basic sign language to hearing children at school. This could have huge long-term benefits in terms of social inclusion for the deaf community.
I welcome the Bill. The Civil Engagement group and I will be voting in favour of Irish Sign Language recognition. I urge all of our colleagues to do so too.
I welcome the Minister of State and the work done by Senator Mark Daly and others. I also welcome those from the deaf community who join us; the young people and the signers who are interpreting for those in the Visitors Gallery. Sometimes in this Chamber one knows something special is about to happen because of the attendance of Senators, the Visitors Gallery is full and because there is something in the air. In view of the campaign which was undertaken by those who feel passionately about this, there is something in the air. This issue is about silence, empowerment and citizenship.
If the Leas-Cathaoirleach will allow, I shall speak directly to the young people here who have been mentioned by other Senators. Often it is very difficult to stand up for oneself, but it can be even more difficult to stand up for others. If you were here earlier, you would have heard a conversation in the Chamber about the Traveller community. Speakers across the House spoke about the necessity to stand up and recognise the Traveller community and do better by them. If you had been in the Chamber this morning you would have heard Senators across the House speak about the issues in Aleppo and Ireland's responsibility to do something about what is happening in Syria and to open our arms and the State to those who need us most. It has been said that when it comes to issues that you feel strongly about as young people, you should ask yourself, "If not me then who, and if not now then when?" As young people, you have taken on this issue; you have brought it to the heart of the Oireachtas and you have made all of us who walked into this Chamber this afternoon know that something special is happening. You should be absolutely commended for this and you should realise the power you have.
Martin Luther King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter". Much has been said about the 1916 Rising and the commemorations. Perhaps only now are we beginning to realise the depth of the wound caused by the recession in the State, which is about eight or nine years old, and the depth of the wounds it has caused to a generation of Irish people who may know nothing else but this financial crisis. We can now reimagine the type of country in which we want to live. It is about citizenship, but how can you be a citizen if you are forced to live in silence? This is not a case of Government or politicians granting something to a section of our society, because the empowerment in these situations is very important. It is about all of us, collectively, recognising the importance of citizenship.
Let us realise what is happening across the world, in the United States of America and across Europe, including the United Kingdom. Politics is turning into a section of Irish society pointing fingers and blame at others and saying the reason they are unhappy is because of that group or those people. What you are doing today is allowing people to come in and be part of the common citizenship. Often, this House and politics struggles to connect outside of these walls. What you have done and what the deaf community is asking for is to become part of that common citizenship.
I contend that the system should be bending over backwards to recognise a mechanism to break the silence. The Labour Party supports the Bill absolutely. I am glad that everyone in the House, across party lines, agrees - as happened this morning with the Syrian issue and as happened this afternoon with the Travellers' rights, and is happening now with regard to Irish Sign Language recognition. It brings a level of political legitimacy to the House and also gives a message to young people, old people, citizens who are in the Chamber, on the power they have. If you really want to make a change and believe in it enough, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
I have a message for the House from the Oireachtas broadcasting unit. This debate will be repeated with sign language interpretation after Dáil proceedings finish on Thursday, 20 October on the Oireachtas TV channel.
I thank Senator Mark Daly for bringing this Bill to the House. A few years ago, when I served on it, I brought a similar proposal to Limerick City Council. It was one of the first local authorities in the country to pass such a proposition. I welcome all of the members of the deaf community who are here and thank them for the professional campaign they have run in the past few weeks. We have had e-mails, letters and various other contacts from people throughout the country. In Limerick, we are fortunate to have a school for the deaf in Rosbrien. I have visited it many times. The Irish Deaf Society also has offices on O'Connell Street and, as late as yesterday, I spoke to one of the people who is involved in it.
I was delighted to pledge my support to the Bill because recognition of Irish Sing Language has been sought for many years. It is important the Minister of State and his Department have indicated that this is being taken seriously. We all know about equality. It is a word that we have often heard, especially in more recent times. This is about having equal rights for everyone, whether one is deaf or can hear, and the sooner Irish Sign Language is recognised as a third language the better. This concerns more than 5,000 people as well as their families, supporters and those who are working on their behalf. Many people volunteer their services in the deaf community also. I pay tribute to them all. They have been involved on a professional and voluntary basis for many years. I hope the Bill will receive unanimous support.
Are Senators Terry Leyden, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor and Brian Ó Domhnaill sharing time?
I will share time with Jennifer Senator Murnane O'Connor.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath. He has served his time having worked with those with disabilities and who are marginalised in his community and throughout the country. It was tremendous when he was appointed given he also has a watching brief at the Cabinet. This is an important day for Senator Mark Daly who has pioneered this issue for a long time. As a result of the new dispensation and new politics, we are now in a position to pass legislation, regardless of whether the Government likes it. The Government has certainly proved in the past that it was not prepared to support this legislation.
The Bill was countersigned by Senators Keith Swanick and Catherine Ardagh and supported by the Fianna Fáil group in Seanad Éireann. It is a step in the right direction. Senator Mark Daly, in particular, deserves credit because he has put a lot of work into this Bill, as have members of the deaf community, including Dr. John Bosco Conama from County Roscommon. Dr. Conama who works in Trinity College Dublin has pioneered the use of sign language. We have all been proud to see him on RTE providing a service to the deaf community, particularly during the "Six One News", a programme on which he served for many years. The work he is doing is very important.
It is 100 years since the 1916 Rising. It is surprising that the deaf have not been recognised in their country during those 100 years of freedom. This is an historic day for the deaf community at home and abroad and I am delighted the Oireachtas television service will broadcast these proceedings on Thursday.
The Bill is comprehensive. It covers every area and will assist deaf people in their dealings with the education system and the courts, as well as other public authorities and services.
To be deaf is to be in a lonely place. I have met people with different disabilities. This is a serious and profound disability, but people who are deaf have achieved an enormous amount in work as well as in serving the community. In so many ways, they have been active members of their communities. This Bill will ensure they will have a real voice in the State. I urge the Government not just to pay lip-service to this - the House might excuse the pun - but to go along with the Bill proposed by Senator Mark Daly and the Seanad.
As I stated this morning, this House provides a service which is second to none. It is here that the Bill is being introduced. Without Senator Mark Daly and this House, the Bill would not have been heard of because the other House would not have time to deal with it.
I welcome all participants. I have read emails and text messages. I am very impressed by an e-mail from Kate Parnell and her teacher Catherine Moran from the school in New Ross in County Wexford. Ger Boyce from the Deaf Community Centre Limerick sent a text wishing this Bill success and Anthony Griffin outlined in great detail the barriers encountered.
I have known first hand the barriers deaf people face in society. As one of two hearing siblings in a deaf family, I have been communicating on behalf of my family all my life, including with banks, doctors, solicitors and Departments. This started when I was too young to be even involved in such matters, never mind understand them. I had to grow up fast and see the world for how it is at too young an age.
What the Bill means to the communities present has been outlined clearly. It is a proud day for them to be here. I hope they pursue the Bill through Committee Stage to Final Stage and ensure it is enacted as quickly as possible.
Like previous speakers, I congratulate Senator Mark Daly on bringing forward the Bill. I received many letters and emails also. This Bill is a great achievement and I am delighted to support it. This is all about equal rights for the members of the deaf community. In particular, I want to mention their families. These families have been there through thick and thin and fought for everything. They fought for the simple things in life. They should be commended and thanked for everything they do. Today is all about the 5,000 people in the deaf community. It is about ensuring they have equal access and equal rights. We need to ensure everyone has the chance of a proper life in society. I am, therefore, delighted to support the Bill and congratulate Senator Mark Daly.
We are very fortunate with this Minister of State. I have known him for quite a number of years and know that he has a full and personal commitment in the area of disability. I spoke to him yesterday and he indicated his absolute support for the Bill. The last time such legislation was introduced in the House, it was defeated by three votes. I am sorry and ashamed that happened. I do not think it will happen today. I do not think there will be a single voice raised against the Bill in this House. Perhaps, therefore, it is not necessary to have a vote, although it might be good to have a vote to show the support of Seanad Éireann.
This debate demonstrates the relevance of Seanad Éireann as an instrument for social change.
This is very often not recognised as a fact but, as Senator Terry Leyden said, this would not have happened without Senator Mark Daly and Seanad Éireann. This is a personal initiative of Senator Mark Daly. I asked him whether the Bill was provided to him by the Irish Deaf Society. He indicated it had helped, but he constructed the Bill himself with the assistance, and this is an important innovation, of a draftsperson supplied by the Oireachtas. This will help us introduce more and more legislation.
The legislation is comprehensive. I will not go into it in great detail as we can do so on Committee Stage, but I should say it needs a little updating. It speaks about the level of interpretive services and states we need 18,000 hours with a maximum of 60 hours per person by 1914. I must inform the House that 1914 is well and truly past.
Last night, by coincidence, I was visiting a neighbour of mine in North Great Georges Street and I discovered that Dr. Charles Orpen who started the first school for the deaf and used sign language,lived in the house in 1816 when he was running the school. It is a curious little personal memoir.
I must pay tribute to the Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College Dublin. Senators Lynn Ruane and Mark Daly and I spoke at a very interesting meeting there. I learned a great deal from the stories of deaf people. I could not believe that until recently sign language was more or less outlawed in educational institutions. Children had their hands tied behind their backs. This is a frightful violation of the human rights of deaf people and for that, as a hearing person, I apologise. This is really shocking.
There are 5,000 deaf people and 40,000 additional people who are members of families, friends or relatives. As hearing people, we do not really think about these things, but for these people sign language is not just sign language, it is their first language. It is the language they use and the language they have. As a hearing person, this had not really struck home with me.
It is astonishing that service providers such as Government agencies are not required to have interpreters. Very often we see Polish translations, Rumanian translations and even Chinese translations, but we do not have translations for our own citizens. I find this very shocking. The ways in which the people are deprived of proper access to medical services, educational establishments and social services is dreadful. It is one of the hidden crimes of this society.
More than 40 local authorities have passed motions accepting this legislation. In Northern Ireland, sign language is recognised. Is this not astonishing? Here is partition again. The North has it and we do not have it. There is no automatic right for deaf people to have an interpreter in court. How astonishing that a person can be in court and not actually understand what is going on in a case being prosecuted for or against him or her. I find this quite incredible. I received a note from the students of the Holy Family School for the Deaf in Cabra. They pointed out that if they have to go to hospital or to other places, they are stranded and are isolated. They also strongly support the Bill.
I received an email from a very interesting young woman in her early 30s. She has been profoundly deaf since she was eight months old. She spoke about her educational experience. She did very well at maths, but she was useless at English. The reason was perfectly simple. She had an interpreter for the maths class who was able to speak sign language. This brought her on to the level of the other students. In English class, there was no assistance, so she was trapped in a world of silence and fell behind. When people's education suffers, their job prospects and social prospects also suffer so there is a continuing deprivation. Last year a man crashed into her car. The police came but there was no interpreter. She could not understand what the garda or the other motorist were saying. Again, she was absolutely stranded. She had no possibility of a really positive interaction.
I received a note from somebody who was an interpreter and pay tribute to the interpreters here today and thank them for coming here. It is splendid that Seanad Éireann provided these facilities when Dáil Éireann found it could not. This shows the flexibility of Seanad Éireann. Very often there are no interpreters at parent-teacher meetings. Interpreters cost €120 to €150, which is a lot of money for somebody on a small income. The interpreter who wrote to me has been asked to go along on a pro bono basis to help out in these circumstances. She also instanced the case of a woman whose daughter had been involuntarily put into a mental institution. The mother wanted to discuss with the doctors her continuing treatment and what would happen to her, but there was no interpreter and she could not follow it. In another case, that of a woman whose parent was dying, the doctors called a family meeting. This woman looked after the parent but there was no interpreter and she could not take part in the meeting.
I pay tribute to students at Bishopstown community school. They are absolutely marvellous. I received a terrific letter from them, which was really from the heart, about the number of deaf people and the fact there is only one interpreter for every 643 people. It was signed by a couple of hundred signatures. This is wonderful. It shows the genuine decent support of ordinary people for their deaf colleagues.
I very much hope the Bill will pass. It will help people like Mary, a woman who was sent at five years of age to a deaf school and came back when she was 22 to a little farm in the midlands. For four years she had no social interaction whatever until somebody who had been at the school with her invited her to a party. Her parents did not want to go because they were afraid for her safety. She went and met other young people there. All of these people will be helped by the Bill. I congratulate Senator Mark Daly and the deaf community. It is a good day for Ireland that we will pass the Bill this afternoon.
I support in principle the thrust of the Bill, which will help to bring about equality and inclusion. From all the stories we have heard, the current situation has led to inequality and exclusion. The 5,000 people may be a minority, but they are an important minority and I am glad the Bill is being supported collaboratively around the House. I compliment all the stakeholders who campaigned for it and Senator Mark Daly who did a lot of work on it.
The objective of the Bill is to allow a large group of people to lead a more equal life in the future. I understand the Minister of State has promised legislation to ensure all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when availing of their statutory entitlements. I note the report of the Oireachtas joint committee, of which many of my colleagues were members. The work of committees, because they are cross-party, allows for the collaboration about which we are speaking.
Highlighting this issue by all those involved in the campaign in the House and the various advocates, organisations and school students has been of enormous benefit because many of us did not know of the disadvantages.
As a former teacher, I know that funding is in place for home tuition services for hearing-impaired preschool and schoolgoing children to provide training for them, their siblings and parents. However, from what we have heard today and the discussion on the Bill, there is now an important step to be taken and I compliment and add my voice of support for it.
I commend Senator Mark Daly for his tireless work on this campaign. From the day we came in as new Senators, he was badgering for the cause and fair dues to him. He had the top-down approach. I also commend all the pupils from Bishopstown community school and all the other schools and all the other activists who have worked tirelessly to push and promote the rights of the Irish deaf community. It is a great day to be a Member of the Seanad. It is wonderful that there will be cross-party support on this issue. The sooner the Bill is resourced and processed forward, the better for the Irish deaf community. We have Irish deaf community members among so many organisations in the country. It is about time; therefore, all I say is let us get on with the Bill as soon as possible, progress it, see it through and advance equality and society for all Irish people.
I am very happy to get an opportunity to speak about this issue. It is an issue of core principle because it is one of equality and justice and it is important that we underscore that equality. I commend all those who have already been commended, particularly Senator Mark Daly and others who have put this principle on the agenda repeatedly. During times when we have been told to roll back our ambition for society, Senator Mark Daly has said "No", that this is a core question of justice and has put the issue forward time and again. Again, I am very happy to see there is support across the House for the Bill.
However, it is also a matter of taking those principles and putting them into practice. Senator John Dolan, our colleague in this group, and many of the other Senators in the Civic Engagement Group have been pushing and pressing for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I recognise that the Minister of State has also committed now to ratifying it. The Bill is a very real example of what it means when one ratifies such a treaty. It does not just mean that one signs one's name or gets applauded. It means real resources. It means the kind of detailed, practical, actual, meaningful offers and proposals set out in such detail in the Bill. This is what happens when principle is translated into practice and I hope this will set a template for that meaningful translation of principle into practice across so many areas of disability in Irish life.
I want to highlight two other specific issues on participation. Before I talk about participation, I will talk about privacy. It is all Ps for me today. Privacy is something that was spoken about very eloquently by Senator David Norris also. Communication has many functions. One of the important questions is the discretion and dignity of human beings and their ability to communicate and to have their discretion and dignity respected, not to rely on ad hoc solutions or a family member to be immediately privy to all their information and not to have people stepping in - children in many cases - as interlocutors for family members when they should not have to do so. Each person has the right to communicate as an individual person and to be facilitated in that by use of his or her preferred language, in this case Irish Sign Language, ISL. We have been read many letters - I will not recite any; others have spoken of them - in which people talked about how it compromised their privacy and dignity, for example, in medical situations, not to be able to communicate themselves as themselves. I again welcome the fact that the Bill sets out such real and clear procedures surrounding the registration of those supports. What does it mean when we supply real, qualified, appropriate translation in all aspects of the State?
I want to speak briefly about participation. We have heard about the participation of citizens. This is not just the services received, but also participation given by citizens. This facilitates people to give into society and to participate fully. That is why it is important we remember that the recognition of ISL is not just an issue that affects a minority. When everyone participates in society we make better decisions and get better outcomes and when a minority cannot be part of a debate in society, we all lose out - all of society. Therefore, I again welcome the Bill.
My last point concerns cultural participation. It is not just a matter of functional participation. It is also about culture. When we recognise ISL, our whole culture and society will be deepened. We can all look forward to what we might hear from those who will now be putting a new language on the agenda.
At this stage we have 20 minutes before I call the Minister of State. Quite a number of speakers are indicating. Therefore, I encourage speakers to stick to five or six minutes at a maximum. In that way we will try to fit in as many as possible.
I welcome the Minister of State. We will wait until he is ready to listen. The first people I congratulate are the deaf community. I am limping because I fell down the stairs. I congratulate the deaf community because what they did was the greatest example of how communications can work in politics. They are absolutely outstanding in the way they communicated with us, emailed us, telephoned us, spoke to us, told us their needs, what was going on and the platform for the whole idea. We just had it. What they did was brilliant. Would that other aspects of our community did likewise or that we as politicians or Senators had their talent in communication; therefore, I congratulate them. They were outstanding. We could not ignore them. We did not want to ignore them but we would not have been able. They were absolutely outstanding. It is one of the reasons, as well as other reasons of equality and quality of life, that I am here to support the Bill. I must also mention Fianna Fáil colleagues. Obviously, I find it very difficult to mention them. I cannot say their names. They stick in my throat.
The Senator should sign their names.
However, I must give glory where glory is due to Senator Mark Daly for platforming this issue, running with it, continuing with it and bringing it to the House today and what a House. They were going to close us down. They got that wrong. Especially when a Bill such as this comes through the Seanad first, it just shows what the Seanad is capable of, what it should be capable of and what it should be spending its time doing nationally. When it does things, it does them very well. I also thank Mr. John Cradden and Mr. Barry Dunne. They are both ex-students of mine in DCU and were absolutely wonderful and taught me as a lecturer exactly how to enunciate and teach because they used hearing aids. I had to use particular microphones when we were working together. I again thank every single person in the deaf community who communicated with us individually and collectively. It was a lesson in the art, craft and skill of what good communications can do to have an impact and to ignite people who can make a difference to one's life to go ahead and do it. I offer my congratulations and will support the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State. Like my colleagues, I very much welcome the pupils and members of the Irish deaf community. Similarly, I thank Senator Mark Daly for bringing the Bill to the Chamber. It is extremely important for the current and future community of deaf people in Ireland. One person who wrote to me put it quite succinctly and clearly. She said it was about respect for one's language and the celebration of a minority in a majority world. It is a very important minority. We know that there are about 5,000 people who use Irish Sign Language and it is only right and proper that the needs of this group be met.
Like previous speakers, I have received a lot of correspondence and many telephone calls on this issue, about which I have spoken to many people. One particular letter expressed very clearly how important it was that Irish Sign Language be recognised. The writer, a lady who has been deaf since the age of two years when she contracted meningitis, was kept in a mainstream school by her family where she struggled terribly to follow teachers and obtained poor leaving certificate examination results. She subsequently completed a post-leaving certificate course in Dublin, which she barely passed. Her letter describes how her self-esteem and self-confidence were shattered by her inability to achieve what she believed she could achieve. She later discovered the deaf community and started to learn Irish Sign Language. Ten years later she completed a course and successfully graduated with a degree in adult education and training. It took her 16 years after taking the leaving certificate examinations to get a degree because she did not have access to Irish Sign Language. The point she makes is that she faces a constant struggle to access health services, justice and information. She describes having to constantly ask, beg and fight for access to Irish Sign Language.
This is an important day. It is vital that we treat deaf people as equal citizens by recognising Irish Sign Language and empowering them to communicate and achieve all they can. I thank those members of the deaf community who have contacted Senators. They should keep their campaign going. I will vote in favour of the Bill and hope it will proceed through the Houses as quickly as possible. I also hope resources will be provided to ensure members of the deaf community have access to proper services and an ability to achieve the best they can. I thank the Minister of State for his attendance.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. I also welcome those present in the Visitors Gallery which is full and includes members of the deaf community who are in school. Our visitors from Bishopstown community school are in the part of the Visitors Gallery that is normally restricted to visiting presidents and other VIPs.
The deaf community has taken a long road and spent many years in getting this far. Senator Mark Daly has pushed this issue for a long time. It sticks in my throat a little that it has taken so long to get this far. I am sure the schoolchildren present feel as if this debate has been ongoing for ages. The way the Seanad works is that two hours have been provided for this debate because it is so important. Schoolchildren probably find the first three speeches fine, but after that, I am sure they would like us to move along or perhaps shut up and do what it is we are supposed to do.
Having received many letters and postcards, I was delighted to invite our visitors to the Seanad and I am pleased that they made the effort to travel to Dublin to make their presence so strongly felt. Irish Sign Language is vital and provides a sense of belonging and identity for its users. It is not enough to say deaf people will at some stage become a little more equal or be included a little more in society. This legislation will break some of the longstanding barriers facing them and help the process of disability and equality proofing in society.
I echo the concerns expressed by previous speakers about resources. While the Bill will be passed - hip, hip, hooray - the challenge will be to ensure resource issues do not become a barrier to full implementation of the legislation. I hope the Minister of State is listening attentively because deaf people face enough barriers in their lives. I ask him to provide the necessary funding to speed up and implement the legislation. I say, "Go raibh míle maith agaibh and well done," to everybody.
I will be brief because I know a number of other Senators wish to speak in the short time available. I welcome the Minister of State and, in particular, the members of the deaf community and their supporters in the Visitors Gallery. It is great to see so many of them in the Chamber. I commend Senator Mark Daly for his tenacity and persistence in pursuing this issue and promoting the Bill which all Senators are happy to support.
My colleague, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, spoke for the Labour Party in expressing our support for the Bill and the principles enunciated within it. Like others, I commend members, former and current students of the centre for deaf studies in Trinity College Dublin for all their work in lobbying on this legislation and the work of many other individuals and students, in particular, the students from Bishopstown community school in Cork who took the time to write to Senators to express their support for the Bill. Senators do not often receive handwritten letters, as we did from the school's pupils.
We are all in agreement on the issues addressed in the Bill. There is an issue around interpretation for Irish Sign Language in the courts system. I pay tribute to Professor Lorraine Leeson from the centre for deaf studies in Trinity College Dublin, with whom I have worked on the issue of interpretation rights for members of the deaf community who come before the courts.
All of us will echo the words of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality which, in its recent report on the recognition of Irish Sign Language, called for prioritisation of this Bill and its enactment as soon as possible. The report stated the position of the deaf community in Ireland could only be adequately addressed through legislative action and that in the absence of legislation and enforceable legal rights, efforts to address the issue would be piecemeal and inadequate. I conclude with those words, express again my support for the Bill, thank the interpreters present and apologise to them for speaking so fast.
The final speaker will be Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill. Unfortunately, Senator Rónán Mullen will not be able to contribute as only a short period remains.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla bomaite a thabhairt do mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Rónán Mullen. I wish to be associated with the remarks of previous speakers. I compliment my party colleague, Senator Mark Daly, on the time and unwavering commitment he has given to bringing the Bill before the House and having succeeded at the second attempt.
I apologise for interrupting Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill. As the debate did not start until 2.15 p.m., I presume two hours have been provided.
The Order of Business was agreed to by the House. I was to call the Minister of State at 3.55 p.m. I have accommodated everybody so far and speakers have been accommodating each other. We are eating into the time allocated in having this discussion. I ask Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill to continue.
I was paying tribute to my colleague Senator Mark Daly for his work on this issue. I also acknowledge the communications Senators received from members of the deaf community, particularly transition year students in New Ross and pupils from Bishopstown community school who join us this afternoon.
This is very important legislation which aims to move us another step along the road of eradicating discrimination in society. It will bring the provisions of political and civil rights to the deaf community which counts at least 5,000 members in Ireland. The legislation will bring Ireland into the modern era and recognise a minority group in society. The purpose of the House when it was established in 1922, as subsequently provided for in the 1937 Constitution, was to protect and represent the rights of minority groups. In dealing with this issue the House is certainly living up to the obligations placed on it.
I agree with previous speakers that the legislation must be streamlined and that we must move steadfastly to enable it to proceed to Committee and Report Stages. After its passage through this and the other House which I hope will not take long, it will be necessary to provide State support to implement it.
We have learned something when on this path with the Official Languages Act 2003 and the official recognition of the Irish language. Official recognition has been provided for in legislation but the State, unfortunately, falls short in living up to those provisions. There is much that can be learned in that regard.
European experts have noted in recent times the need for Ireland to move into line with other European jurisdictions. We can look across the Atlantic to Canada which 34 years ago provided the legal basis of recognition for the deaf community. We can also learn from Canada in terms of the technological supports that are provided for the deaf community.
I commend all those who have interacted with Senators to bring this legislation before the House. I wish Senator Mark Daly well in his ongoing deliberations on the legislation and hope we see Committee Stage commence shortly.
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. I add my voice in support of this excellent Bill and commend Senator Mark Daly for bringing it forward. I also welcome those from the coalface, the experts and the members of the deaf community who have joined us.
Like others, I too was impressed to be contacted by so many people. I noticed two things, in particular. I heard from a lot of people I know who either have family or professional connections. They include people working in chaplaincy, members of the deaf community themselves and others who are involved in education. We receive so many emails and there is so much lobbying, but the content and the people who were writing to us made it impossible to ignore what we were getting.
The other thing that struck me was the richness of the real-life stories, although on occasion they were also very sad. We have heard some of them today. We were reminded of cases where, for example, deaf people were badly treated in hospitals. In one case a number of years ago, a man set out to walk 50 miles home to Clifden but was killed on the way. Having been delivered by taxi to a hospital, he was not helped in the appropriate way to get transport home. That is just one of many stories. We have been reminded, of course, that it is not all doom and gloom, that there is a vibrant deaf community and that Irish Sign Language is rich and capable of expressing every kind of concept.
It is our duty to ensure what will happen, I hope, in legislation will be followed up with resources and practice. I have also heard from people who are anxious to keep the St. Joseph's centre open. We were reminded of just how difficult it can be when members of the deaf community find themselves isolated in nursing home situations and have no one they can contact. While the HSE might have a particular policy about care within the community as opposed to congregated settings, which might be very wise, it is also important to have facilities that can provide top notch attention and amenities to those in the deaf community. We need to honour and respect that viewpoint also.
I conclude with words of thanks and continuing support. I know that the Minister of State cares about this issue and we hope the Government follows up with the necessary action.
I thank all Members for their co-operation.
I welcome those from the deaf community and the Irish Deaf Society, the students and the interpreters and use the occasion to compliment Senator Mark Daly on his wonderful, although long and difficult, work on this legislation. I thank Senators for their wonderful contributions and their sincere and heartfelt views. If I have the opportunity, I would love to respond to all the points raised by them.
As I listened to the Senators' contributions and heard their passion for and commitment to human rights and the great sense of social justice, I thought of Martin Naughton, the great disability rights campaigner, whose funeral I attended last Saturday in Baldoyle and who was buried in An Spidéal in County Galway. I had recently appointed that great Galway man, who fought for many years for the rights of all people with disabilities, to the task force dealing with disability issues. It is relevant that people such as Martin are remembered on days like this one. May he rest in peace. The battle for disability rights goes on and the Seanad did that ethos proud today.
I am happy to have the opportunity to join in the debate on the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. There are approximately 5,000 users - although I suspect the number is much higher - of Irish Sign Language in the State and it is fair that public services provide them with interpretation services at no cost to the user when questions of statutory entitlement are at issue. I will not oppose the Bill and, when I raised it, there was no opposition to it at the Cabinet yesterday. It is important to let people know that also.
The sponsors of the Bill, including Senator Mark Daly, have done a valuable public service by putting the need to cater for the rights of users of Irish Sign Language on our agenda in the Oireachtas. I look forward to continuing the discussion on the Bill once it has completed the necessary pre-legislative scrutiny phase. Our discussion is particularly appropriate as we move toward ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, something which was touched on by many Senators. As Members will be aware, the Government is committed to ratification of the convention and we are working on finalising the details of the necessary legislation to remove the final legislative barriers to that ratification. The Government hopes to be in a position to publish this Bill in the very near future. We also intend to ratify the convention’s optional protocol at the same time as the convention itself is ratified. I have set my heart strongly on that happening.
Members will know that interpretation services for deaf people on a State-wide basis are provided by the Sign Language Interpreting Service, SLIS, which was established by the Citizens Information Board in 2007. The SLIS is a limited company with a board of directors comprising representatives of key stakeholders such as the Citizens Information Board, Deaf Hear and the deaf community. The SLIS receives State funding directly from the Citizens Information Board. In 2016 it has an allocation of €275,000. It is generally acknowledged that the SLIS does superb work in its provision of an extensive range of services. That it intends to build on its current capacity is clear from its statement of strategy document for 2015 to 2020. In particular, the service intends to increase availability of interpreting services in key areas of daily life, particularly where deaf people are exercising their rights or entitlements. We need to move on that issue.
I have to flag a number of questions about specific provisions in the Bill which I am sure will be examined carefully in the pre-legislative scrutiny process. While the central principle of the Bill is sound, it seems to take a perhaps disproportionate approach to the provision of services for users of Irish Sign Language. Even prior to the publication of the Bill, I had approved a draft of the new national disability inclusion strategy, which we are working on. It proposes the following action for public consultation: “We will propose legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language (ISL) users with free ... interpretation when availing of their statutory [entitlements]”. More work will be needed - I take on board the Senator's points made in the debate - to tease out the detail of how this will operate, but, in principle, we need an approach focused directly on statutory entitlements.
We know from our experience of the Irish language and the Official Languages Act that what is really important is developing the capacity to provide services in the language of the customer's choice and that enacting legislation or a constitutional protection will not resolve the practical service delivery issues that need to be planned for. This matter needs to be examined closely. We need a pragmatic and feasible approach backed up by statutory recognition of the rights of users of Irish Sign Language but also to ensure we can guarantee the service can be delivered in practice. A number of Senators spoke about the importance of delivery and the provision of resources. I got the message.
The following are elements of the Bill at which we need to look. The preambles are not a feature of how we draft primary legislation and do not seem to be necessary. I am not sure anything useful would come from the proposal to impose an obligation on public bodies to develop three-year action plans for Irish Sign Language, as provided for in section 9. The establishment of a new public body to be named the sign language interpreting service by the Citizens Information Board rather than allowing the board to continue to develop an ISL service, as it has been doing, does not seem to be necessary.
Section 18 includes a provision to offer the annual accounts of the new body for sale. It is usual practice to publish accounts online and it is difficult to see how this provision is necessary.
Section 19 provides for borrowing by the public body to be established under section 12. Allowing an Exchequer-funded public body to borrow money is manifestly not a good idea. Of particular concern is how the loans would be controlled and repaid.
Section 29 provides for a sentence of 12 months imprisonment for either offering interpretation services or teaching Irish Sign Language on a commercial basis without being registered. I accept that there is a need for proper standards, but this approach is unnecessarily punitive and will do nothing to address the real issue - the need to develop the availability of Irish Sign Language interpreters.
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has considered the proposed amendment of section 43 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 as set out in Part 4 of the Bill in consultation with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and makes the point that the proposed approach would remove an important part of the broadcasting regulatory framework from its natural and appropriate statutory focus, namely, the Broadcasting Act 2009. Section 43 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 provides for the preparation of statutory rules by the BAI which place a range of statutory obligations on broadcasters. In the case of persons who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, persons who are blind or partially sighted and persons who have a hearing impairment and are partially sighted, the BAI has adopted access rules which contain specific target percentage ranges in regard to, inter alia, sign language and subtitling with which broadcasters are required to comply. These are revised by the BAI from time to time in accordance with the provisions of the Act. In addition, sections 53 to 55, inclusive, of the Act provide for an investigation and potential enforcement action in circumstances where there has been an apparent breach of a broadcasting rule. It is noted that this latter aspect is not provided for in the proposed Bill. Furthermore, section 43(6) of the Broadcasting Act 2009 provides for biennial reviews of the access rules to be undertaken by the BAI, thereby allowing for potential revisions to be made to the rules. In Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the proposed Bill, however, it is proposed to incorporate a number of percentage targets for the period 2017 to 2019 which appear to have been taken from the current access rules. The Bill makes no provision for any review or potential revision of these targets. As such, the Schedule would become outdated every two years, which is a matter to be reflected on.
It should also be noted that Part 1 of Schedule 1, as proposed, omits certain services such as Oireachtas TV, Irish language TV and UTV Ireland. Following on from the BAl's extensive and ongoing consultations with user groups, it is evident that the quality and reliability of access service provision is as, if not more, important than the achievement of targets which are only a quantitative measure as such. The BAI's regulatory approach facilitates a far more flexible and consultative approach that takes account of improvements in the quality, reliability and range of access service provision, for example, increased live subtitling, subtitled Irish content, etc., rather than just quantitative targets as envisaged in the proposed Bill, thereby providing a regulatory approach that delivers in a more comprehensive and nuanced way on the wishes of users and intended beneficiaries of the services.
All of these points will need to be considered carefully as the examination of the Bill moves forward in the Houses. I am happy that the Bill will move to the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and that in due course, in the light of the assessment by the Oireachtas of the Bill’s proposals, we can work together to see what amendments are needed to create the focused right to interpretation which I would welcome and to remove some of the other elements that do not seem to be appropriate, as mentioned.
The new national disability inclusion strategy I mentioned is relevant. The strategy which it is intended will be in place before the end of 2016 includes, as I stated, a specific action to create a statutory right for a person to receive free Irish Sign Language interpretation services when availing of statutory services. In taking this approach we will still need to tease out in detail several issues, including how statutory services are to be defined and whether advance booking of the service would be required. This approach will provide a more fruitful way forward in that rather than the overly elaborate approach provided for in the Bill, it will be focused on meeting real needs in a pragmatic and cost-effective way. One of the issues Senators might consider is whether it would be better to build on the existing supports provided for the provision of interpretation services by the Citizens Information Board or to establish a new pubic body, as proposed in the Bill.
I welcome the contributions of all Senators to the debate, during which some very serious issues were raised. I share the sentiments expressed by Senators Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Mark Daly about the tragic deaths in Dublin of the McCarthy brothers. We need to focus our attention not only on the issue of isolation but also on the need for change in broader sections of society. As Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, I have met approximately 3,000 people with physical, intellectual and other disabilities, as well as service providers, from whom the message is that broader society has to change and that the mindset has to change in dealing with this issue and, in that context, this legislation.
As I said, I am not opposing the Bill. For me, it is about equality and respect, but it is also about citizens' participation. I take the opportunity to thank Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin for his work on this issue. As the Deputy is not a Member of this House, perhaps his Sinn Féin colleagues who are Members of this House might bring that message to him.
Senator Billy Lawless raised the important issue of employment and also referred to the justice system. Senator Victor Boyhan spoke about the urgent need not only for the enactment of legislation but also about the provision of resources to back it up. Employment of members of the deaf community is a huge issue. There are many talented deaf people, with many of whom I have engaged. The unemployment rate among members of the deaf community is too high.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile spoke about the important issue of rights and equality. Senator Gabrielle McFadden has made the very good point that we must ensure we will not pay lip-service to this issue. While, in this instance, we are speaking about the needs of the deaf community, meeting the needs of all people with disabilities is an important issue. Language is important in the context of inclusion and respect within broader society.
Senator Jerry Buttimer, a former teacher, mentioned that we should look at Cork Deaf Enterprises.
This is something I would like to visit as part of my portfolio.
Senator Frances Black spoke about the UN convention and the five articles. I am trying to do something about this.
Senator Lynn Ruane dealt with the issue of discrimination. She also dealt with the employment issue whereby unemployment is too high among the deaf community, which is crazy for any society when we have a lot of skilled people.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin dealt with the issue of empowerment and commented, as did many of us, on the campaign by the students and the Irish Deaf Society.
Senators Terry Leyden and David Norris dealt with the importance of this House. When I was in opposition and an Independent Deputy, I supported the campaign to save the Seanad.
It was not very popular and we were hammered at the time, but I am so proud, particularly on days like this when one sees the Senators doing valuable work. It quietens a lot of those who are cynical about this House. This is a very important Chamber which I totally respect. At the time, when there was a lot of negativity towards it, there were those of us in the Dáil who respected the work of the Seanad and respected our Senators. I am glad that it was a major victory.
Senator David Norris raised the point that the Bill had been defeated the last time by three votes.
We have moved on and need radical social change.
Senator John O'Mahony spoke about inequality and exclusion.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan supported the Bill and mentioned the cross-party position and that activists were involved in the campaign. Some of us come from the community and voluntary sector and it is very important for any society to have good campaigners and activists, whether for international issues, human rights issues or issues such as this legislation.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins dealt with equality and justice. This is the type of Ireland we want to build and is something on which we must build. She also touched on ratification of the UN convention. She spoke about the issue of real resources and this debate must take place all of the time. When we are in a downturn, we must focus on where we want to spend limited resources. We have to make political decisions.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins also spoke about the important matter of participation in broader society and ithis debate. I have learned that it lifts everybody. When I was in County Donegal on Monday, I met many children with physical disabilities in Dungloe. I saw children of seven or eight years of age with major physical elements and how they participated in society. I thought about their future. I spoke to their young parents, who are still very upset about finding themselves in this very difficult situation. The issue is the interaction between the people in the preschool services and other social care services and the key word is participation. It was refreshing to see that a group of young parents of young children with disabilities are coming through the system who will not let their children be treated as second-class citizens. It is important that we send this message.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell thanked the students, mentioned the importance of communication and how this particular legislation had been handled.
Senator Maura Hopkins pointed to the importance of this historic day in the Seanad and dealt with the issue of access to services.
Senator Máire Devine spoke about the long road and the sense of belonging and how we needed to listen when we were dealing with this legislation.
Senator Ivana Bacik spoke about the court system and interpretation issues.
Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill and Rónán Mullen spoke about their great support for this legislation and the concept of respecting and having rights for all people with disabilities.
I thank Senator Mark Daly and all of the other Senators for participating in the debate. Let us hope we can move on to the next phase.
I thank the Minister of State for his words. This is a civil rights issue. It is about giving equal opportunity to members of the deaf community to be full citizens of the State. It is also about ending extreme marginalisation. The Minister of State has said the Bill will pass Second Stage and that this has been made possible by new politics. People give out about it but the last election changed the dynamic. Previously, this would not have seen the light of day after this speech ended but now we will go to the next Stage. The problem with new politics is we do not know what happens next. Under the confidence and supply agreement, after Second Stage the Bill should go to Committee Stage within ten weeks but under Standing Orders it is supposed to go to pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure we will have this clarified with the assistance of the Leader of the House and the Business Committee.
Ten weeks from now is 28 December. I have been known to call the Seanad back from its holidays, but I assure Members that whatever I do I will not upset Christmas. I hope that in the new year, Committee Stage will take place, depending on the result of the inquiries into pre-legislative scrutiny. This has gone through pre-legislative scrutiny. The Irish Deaf Society has taken best practice. When the Bill was put together, it was with the assistance of the Houses of the Oireachtas, under its pilot programme whereby Members of the House could get legislation drafted, with input from all sides and looking at legislation put in place in other jurisdictions. The argument for pre-legislative scrutiny may be valid and whether the ten-week timeline is the way we will go is an issue we will resolve. We are all at one on the fact we want to get this done and get it across the line. I thank the Minister of State for his support. I thank the Members for their contributions. I also thank the interpreters for their participation. I thank the members of the deaf community who are here and have been part of the campaign so far. Legislation is a journey and this is one step. I hope that with the Minister of State and all Members, we will journey on this road together.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Next Tuesday, but when we say next Tuesday, we do not actually mean it. It is a procedural matter. It will be taken when the Minister of State decides, sometime in January next year.