Does the Minister of State wish to say a few words?
Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016: Committee Stage
Yes, thank you a Leas-Chathaoirligh. In speaking to amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 13 taken together, if you do not mind, regrettably----
Sorry, we are dealing with section 1 first.
Section 1, okay, fair enough.
There is no list of amendments. There is a grouping list but we do not have a list of amendments.
I thought we had a sheet. Do we not have a yellow sheet?
There are none out there on the desk.
I think my colleagues will confirm there are no amendment lists left out there.
My goodness. We will ask the ushers.
That is quite true, but we have the emailed list. Nobody is sure if they have been withdrawn by the Government.
Hold on. There are printed yellow sheets. We had better check that out. While we progress that matter, is it agreed that we suspend for five minutes? Agreed.
Has everybody got lists of amendments?
Sorry there are two Senators without amendments.
I do not think it is just two Senators, with respect. We have a grouping list and we have the Bill itself, but we do not have the numbered list of amendments.
Senator Norris appears to have it.
Other Senators have and I have. They are on the way to the House. I call the Minister of State on section 1.
I am grateful for the opportunity to deal with the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. I am disappointed that despite the best efforts of my advisors and officials, consensus could not be reached on the amendments necessary to ensure that the Bill is practical and reasonable on the one hand, and delivers something of real value to the deaf community on the other. I thank my colleagues and Fine Gael Senators for their support on this issue. We sat down with people and tried to resolve differences.
I would like to say a few words that apply to all the amendments and indeed to every section of the Bill. I promise that my further contributions will not be as long. I ask the indulgence of the House to make this statement now to show clearly where I stand.
This is not an issue on which the House should divide along party-political lines. We should not send an imperfect Bill to the lower House. I outlined my serious concerns with elements of the Bill on Second Stage and indicated that it would require substantial amendments. We have prepared the text of the Government amendments and have shared these with the Senator and also with representatives of the deaf community whom I welcome to the House for this very important debate. These have now been drafted and I have decided not to present them formally until we achieve consensus.
They address the problematic issues with the Bill, which are as follows: the establishment of a scheme for the provision of Irish Sign Language classes to families, guardians and children who are deaf; the provision by the State of a minimum annual quantum of hours for the provision of interpretation services in addition to the provision of Irish Sign Language interpretation while availing of statutory services; the drafting by all public bodies of individual Irish Sign Language action plans every three years; the establishment of a new public body to be known as the Irish Sign Language council; the establishment of a statutory registry of Irish Sign Language and deaf interpreters; the establishment of a register of Irish Sign Language teachers; and the creation of a new criminal offence to allow for the prosecution of a person who is not registered as an interpreter and who provides interpretation or teaching services for remuneration or reward.
These provisions are either unnecessary in legislation or are an onerous and disproportionate approach to the provision of the services for users of Irish Sign Language and should be deleted from the Bill.
The model of a scheme to be prepared by each public body appears to be based on the approach adopted in the Official Languages Act 2003. It has proved difficult in practice for customers to know what is and is not available from individual public bodies in terms of Irish language services. As there are some 85,000 persons who speak Irish on a daily basis, and up to 5,000 if one includes family members as users of Irish Sign Language, the appropriateness of the language scheme model is not very clear.
It should also be noted that quality assurance of translation and interpretation services in Irish and other languages is on the basis of non-statutory accreditation and industry standards, and the case for a statutory register of interpretation for Irish Sign Language interpreters is obvious. Creating a criminal offence of offering to be a sign language interpreter when the real problem is a lack of people who actually provide the service seems particularly inappropriate. That is the problem I have with some of the suggestions in the debate.
The Government's approach to amending the Bill is to keep and strengthen the three key features that need to be included in the legislation. That is what I want. When I met members of the deaf community yesterday, I said of course I recognised Irish Sign Language and respected and listened to the rights of all people who are campaigning on this issue.
I am focused on three very simple objectives. I want to ensure the recognition by the State of Irish Sign Language and ensure the statement that users have the right to use it is retained. I want to place a duty on public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language interpretation at no cost to the user when access to statutory entitlements is sought by a person. The third objective is to provide a clear statutory right to use Irish Sign Language in court proceedings. These are the kind of rights I am talking about. The rest of the Bill is, I feel, unnecessary. In some cases, it is actually counter-productive and some parts should be deleted.
In response to the concerns raised by the deaf community, the commitments relating to Irish Sign Language in the national disability inclusion study have been strengthened. In two weeks' time, I will launch a national disability strategy, of which item 1 is Irish Sign Language. Another issue raised yesterday was employment for people with disabilities, which is item 2. I will come back to the House on that matter.
In addition to actions provided for the extension of the Irish Sign Language, remote interpretation services will be extended to evenings and weekends and I support this Bill in order to ensure that all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of statutory services.
There is a new action which ensures that the sign language interpreting service, SLIS, will be resourced to increase the number of trained sign language and deaf interpreters. A quality assurance and registration scheme for interpreters will be established. There will be ongoing professional training and development provided for interpreters. I am trying to introduce these services and implement the right to access them.
I have also asked for a business case and funding requests for the above items, and the provision of a minimum annual quantum of hours for the provision of the interpretation services, in addition to the provision of Irish Sign Language interpretation when availing of statutory services. I will consider these as favourably as I possibly can and I understand that these business plans are on the way.
I very much regret the Bill is being progressed in this way. We should not be dividing on party political lines. We should not pass an imperfect Bill, where Senators lose control of its progress and cease to be part of the discussion on the substantive issues. I ask that the House not finalise Committee Stage today or until we have consensus. If that is not agreed, I may bring amendments to each section of the Bill and its Title on Report Stage. If that is acceptable to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I would like that to be taken as a formal notice that I do not need to repeat the point on each individual section.
I will certainly not allow the Minister of State to make such a Second Stage speech on each section. I remind Senators that we are on Committee Stage, and are dealing with section 1. I allowed the Minister of State some latitude; I did not realise what he was going to get into. Section 1 deals with the Short Title and commencement. I will take Senator Daly first.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Section 1 refers to the definitions of the meaning of communication and language. Section 3 deals with what State bodies are included in the Bill. Deafness is not a party political issue.
Deafness is a civil rights issue.
I do not want a debate on this.
We are not having a debate.
We are on section 1.
Sections 1, 2 and 3, which we-----
When I come to section 2-----
I am doing them in groups. Group 1 deals with sections 1 to 3, inclusive, and 13.
No, the amendments are grouped. Section 1 stands alone on Committee Stage.
Okay. I will deal with section 1.
Do not worry, you can come in on section 2.
I thought the sections were grouped.
No, we are on section 1. There are no amendments on section 1. Your amendment is on section 2.
Just pass it and get on with it.
Senator Daly, you will speak first on section 2 because it is your amendment.
I will deal with section 1 and then call on Senators.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 13 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 13, to delete “means of communication” and substitute “language”.
In regard to the comments of the Minister of State, amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, will shorten the preamble and we are trying to achieve a Bill that works for everybody, especially the deaf community. We are concerned that the Government did not propose amendments because it talked about them being put in-----
They were late. They will have to be introduced on Report Stage.
They were not late. They were circulated yesterday.
I understood from the Clerk that they were late for taking today on Committee Stage.
No, they were not.
That is the information I got.
They were not late.
The Bills Office did not get them until today, unfortunately.
Amendment No. 1 is about the means of communication and language and amendment No. 2 is about the substitution of "Republic of Ireland" for "the State", with which we agree. The Minister of State also put in that wording, but the amendments were never put forward. We will finalise the Bill today. The Minister of State said he does not wish to state on every section he will put in the amendments that were deleted by the Department, including the amendment we put in and which was ruled out of order by the Chair. If the Minister of State had put it in, it would not have been ruled out of order.
I did not rule anything out of order.
We got a letter today stating that amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, and 10, of which three were Government amendments, had been ruled out of order.
The amendment we are dealing with now is in order.
If the Government had put them in, they would not have been ruled out of order.
We are on amendment No. 1, which is in order.
I might be out of kilter.
You are, but-----
A number of us are operating without having the list of proposed amendments. I echo the comments made by Senator Mark Daly. I do not think this House will divide on a party-political basis; it will divide on the basis of those who are for this Bill and those who are opposed to the proposed Government amendments. That is how this House should operate. It would be quite easy to simply dismiss a very informed, comprehensive piece of work by Senator Mark Daly and other stakeholders and organisations representing the deaf community in Ireland, but if what the Senator has alluded to happened in terms of the trajectory and mechanics of how the amendments to this Bill have come about and why Fianna Fáil-----
The amendment is in order.
I accept that this amendment is in order.
We are dealing with amendment No. 1 to section 2.
We will come to the other amendments.
Senator Ó Donnghaile will be able to speak on each one of them.
Go raibh ceád míle maith agat. I wish to reiterate on this amendment and the others that Sinn Féin's position on the Bill has been clear for a long time. We support the Bill, as proposed. We will support some amendments and oppose others. I look forward to further discussion and for the Minister of State to provide the rationale for why the Government felt it had to submit amendments in the nature and fashion it has done.
We will deal with the amendments one by one. I call Senator Norris. We are dealing with amendment No. 1, section 2.
I thought we were dealing with the group of three amendments.
Yes, amendments Nos. 1 to 3 are inclusive and No. 13 is related. Those ones may be discussed together.
Yes, so we are dealing with all of those. I very much welcome the fact that there are members of the deaf community here today and also that they have a signer. It is significant that in Seanad Éireann a signer was permitted whereas in Dáil Éireann that was not. That is a considerable advantage for the Seanad.
We were always tolerant.
Absolutely. One hundred percent. Otherwise I would not have been here 30 years ago. With regard to the amendments being ruled out of order, first, the Government proposes amendments and it creates a charge on the Exchequer just the same as anybody else. It is quite extraordinary. In any reform of the Seanad one of the cardinal issues to be resolved should be an amendment to remove this ban on the Seanad creating a charge on the Exchequer. Why on earth should we not? We are professional people. We are reasonable politicians. We have a very good view of the economy. We did a hell of a lot better than Dáil Éireann in terms of the financial crisis so I think we should amend the Constitution to enable Seanad Éireann to bring about a situation whereby it can create a charge on the Exchequer. I have had amendments ruled out on the basis that it would create a charge on the Exchequer to print the amendments. It was as daft as that. I am not challenging the ruling of the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
We would have to amend Standing Orders. It is Standing Orders that state only Government amendments can impose a charge on the Exchequer.
Thank you very much a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Then let us do it. I would let us do it.
It is a matter for Standing Orders.
Let the call go out from this meeting of Seanad Éireann that we immediately change the rules. We are not nincompoops. We are quite capable of acting responsibly in creating a charge.
I am afraid that is not quite relevant to this amendment.
But it is very germane to the amendments.
Yes, of course. I am sure Senator Norris will find another way of pursuing it.
The Minister of State made some very helpful introductory remarks. I regard him as somebody who is very well motivated in the area of disability. He is one of the best qualified people. He has been involved and committed in this area long before he was a Minister and I salute him for it. He recited a number of things that he did not like in the Bill, or that he thought were inappropriate, such as the establishment of a scheme, the quality of hours, Irish Sign Language in public bodies, and the new public body, namely, the Irish Sign Language council, among others. I am not sure why he is against them but I agree with him that it is daft to create a criminal offence. It is a waste of time. I ask Senator Mark Daly not to propose to table the amendment again.
The Minister of State outlined the three features of the Bill which the Government supports and they are absolutely crucial. They include the recognition by the State of Irish Sign Language; the ability of people who have difficulties with hearing to have access to Irish Sign Language when dealing with public bodies and the right to have a sign language interpreter in court. Without that, one is deprived of one's fundamental rights as a citizen.
With regard to the amendments, the first one is a technical one. It just deletes "means of communication" and substitutes "language". That is much better in my opinion. I think that should be accepted straight away. It is a language. When one says "means of communication" one is reducing its status. Language is 100% right. I really did enjoy amendment No. 2. Little did I think I would ever see the day when Senator Mark Daly would delete "the Republic of Ireland", and I welcome it. This is a significant move in Irish political life.
For the benefit of the House, in the Constitution it is "Ireland".
He did not realise he was masquerading.
I do not know whether he is masquerading or not. Amendment No. 3 deals with the definition of those bodies that are involved, namely, Departments of State, local authorities, the Health Service Executive, universities and so on and so forth. Again, that is a useful list but it is not exhaustive. This is the problem we always deal with when we have these kind of amendments which tabulate bodies and exceptions and so on and so forth. We are always told by the Government that it is not exhaustive. One could just stick in at the end "and any other bodies so regarded".
I will support the amendments. It would be better if the House did not divide. Perhaps the Minister of State could give us a timetable, for example, for how long the period of consultation will take. We are so used in the Houses of the Oireachtas to Ministers saying let us have discussion and reach a consensus, which means things get put on the long finger. I would certainly support the Minister of State if we have a definite term, if he could say it will take two weeks or three weeks or whatever it is. In the meantime, why does the Minister of State not introduce his amendments? It looks as if the debate will end in a vote so there may not be consensus but he should introduce the amendments and see where they go. People like me who are independent will take a view on it and if the amendments are reasonable we will vote for them.
They cannot be introduced until Report Stage. They were late for Committee Stage.
Yes, well I think it is a bit daft.
I am only following procedure.
I do understand that. It is a little bit daft that Government amendments are "late". I cannot remember how many months ago it is since we discussed this Bill in the House but I do think there was plenty of time. I would encourage the Minister of State to continue his reasonable line. If no consensus is reached here today, and if he feels the Bill should not be made a political football then he should introduce the amendments, argue for them and see where we get to.
On a point of order, the Chair has outlined that the amendments were late. The Minister of State has outlined that he decided not to propose the amendments. Somebody has to tell us which is correct.
No, the Minister of State has stated that he will introduce them on Report Stage, and he cannot do it after Report Stage.
No, I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirleach. You outlined that they were late. The issue with this Bill is that a lot of the amendments we had tabled have been ruled out of order by the Chair, even though some of them were the same as the Government amendments. The Government decided not to table the amendments, knowing that by it so doing our amendments would be ruled out of order. That was a deeply cynical move.
This amendment is in order.
We have spent hours on the Bill. This Stage was supposed to be taken ten weeks after Second Stage. It is ten months later. We have exhausted ourselves.
The Senator can contribute later.
What the Minister of State has outlined-----
Senator Daly is being argumentative. I want to hear the Senators.
No, I am sorry-----
Senator Daly will have a chance to come in again.
I am sorry, but just on what the Minister of State outlined, what he did not address is that there is a broadcasting element in this. This will show how cynical this is. What we are introducing in the broadcasting element of this Bill is less than what is required of the broadcasting authorities and yet the Government wants it taken out. Why? If we are asking for less, why does it want to do that? It is because it has no intention of meeting the targets. The formal recognition of Irish Sign Language, which is in this Bill, which was ruled out of order by the Chair even though it is the exact same wording as the Government had proposed in its amendments, which were circulated to this House yesterday, and the amendments were never submitted because if we had all voted in favour of those amendments, Irish Sign Language would have been formally recognised.
Why did they do that after ten months of negotiations?
Senator, when we reach that point you will have that opportunity to come in.
It is deeply disturbing for the deaf community-----
On a point of order-----
We are on section 2, amendment No. 1.
On a point of order, I must say that although I regard Senator Daly very highly, I believe there is cynicism on his part if he is suggesting that the Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann would not find Government amendments out of order because they clearly created a charge on the Exchequer. If such a move was attempted I and others in the House would point out that the Government amendments were creating a charge on the Exchequer and demand that they be ruled out of order.
If the Government put forward its amendments they cannot be ruled out of order.
Government amendments can.
The Government can put a charge on the State.
Government amendments can. Order now.
I beg your pardon.
I do understand it can put a charge on the State but-----
Listen, order now. We cannot have-----
-----but because ours are exactly the same as theirs-----
Senator Daly must obey the Chair. He cannot talk across the House.
Can the Leas-Chathaoirleach confirm what Senator Daly is saying? If the Government puts forward amendments that create a charge-----
The Senators have had ample opportunity and, with respect, I now want to hear from Senator Bacik.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome our visitors to the Gallery. Like Senator Norris I am delighted we have a sign language interpreter with us today. It was also very good to meet yesterday with so many representatives from the Irish Deaf Society and the deaf community and to hear the concerns so many of them have about the potential watering down of the Bill through the Government amendments.
I wish to speak about amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive. First, I want to clarify the issues around the amendments. Yesterday morning at 11 a.m. we were all circulated by the Leader's office with a proposed list of Government amendments. I have them here on my device. We could all see them and go through them and many of us met with the Irish Deaf Society, we heard their concerns about these amendments and came in here today understanding that those would be the amendments we would be debating. At 5.15 p.m. we were circulated with a numbered list of 13 amendments from Senator Daly. We now learn that quite a number of those amendments have been ruled out of order by the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It was really frustrating and unacceptable practice, with respect to the Leas-Chathaoirleach that we came into the Chamber, having been circulated with two sets of amendments, to find no amendments there and half an hour into a two-hour debate we are finally supplied with a paper list of amendments - and I thank the usher for passing it around - which turns out to be just Senator Daly's 13 amendments. There is a lack of clarity about what happened to those proposed Government amendments. If they have been withdrawn I am glad that they have been withdrawn. However-----
They were late.
I am concerned-----
They were not late.
They were not late.
We received them-----
They were late to the Bills Office. They are not relevant for this Committee Stage.
They were purposely late to the Bills Office, it is different than----
Please do not talk across the House, I am ruling that they will have to be taken, if they are going to be taken, on Report Stage.
Perhaps we should have adjourned so they could have had time to put in their amendments?
No. It will be on Report Stage. We are on Committee Stage now.
Senators were circulated at 11 a.m. yesterday morning by the Leader's office, and we are grateful to the Leader's office for doing this, with a list of Government amendments that had been prepared and were dated the day before. There is a confusion and it is a matter of concern to hear that the Government proposed to introduce these on Report Stage when we will have less time procedurally to debate them.
We can hear the Minister of State about that in a minute.
I would like to directly ask the Minister of State about what the position of the amendments. It is a very important point. It is not just a procedural or technical matter; it is quite a substantive matter.
I shall now turn to the amendments and say that I support Senator Daly's three amendments. Amendment No. 1 is especially important. Senator Norris has already spoken eloquently about amendment No. 2 and the change of name from the "Republic of Ireland" to the "State" and I support that, and about amendment No. 3 which proposes to change the definition of a public body.
Amendment No. 1 proposes to change the phrase "means of communication" to "language". This is very important because we know from the Irish Deaf Society and from others that there are some 5,000 people in Ireland for whom Irish Sign Language is their primary or first language and for whom English is a second language. It is very important in this human rights and civil rights Bill that we would use the language of language when we talk of rights and entitlements. That point also underlies the entire ethos and purpose of this Bill. I commend Senator Daly for introducing the Bill and for the three amendments we are debating now. I ask the Minister of State again for greater clarity about what is the Government's intention around the amendments we were circulated with, and about which there is a great deal of concern among the deaf community.
In fairness, the Minister of State has outlined where he is coming from within the Government and his Department, and that is about the visibility and making sure that what is passed in the House can be implemented in full within a timeframe. The Minister of State has outlined the three key issues that he wants to move forward with.
With regard to the whole sign language area we need to set out a clear plan, setting out clear targets about what we want to achieve for the people who need to use sign language.
Reference was made to the courts. There are constitutional rights, and I have said this at a number of meetings. People have constitutional rights and if an interpreter is not available to deal with a case then a case cannot legally proceed. I do not care what ruling a judge may make, a case cannot proceed if the person to whom the case relates is affected because there is no interpreter there to interpret what is going on and what is being said. That constitutional right is there and it does not need legislation. If Senators want to put it into legislation then that is not a problem, but the right is already there.
I believe that the issue of clear targets in this context is an aspect that is missing in respect of the HSE and other public services. I have raised the issue previously about the role of disability officers in local authorities, which was introduced. I keep on raising the issue about disability officers in local authorities. When I put in a freedom of information request two years ago to a number of local authorities, each one of them had a different interpretation of the role of a disability officer. Some had the interpretation that their only role was around wheelchair access to public buildings and other local authorities had the issue about making sure the disability officer was available to every person who had a disability to ensure they could access every service provided by the local authority. It is important, in the context of this debate on this Bill, to note that it is not only about legislation, it is also about setting out clear targets and a clear timeframe about introducing the changes that are required. We need to make those changes, especially around health services and public services.
Let us move forward on this issue. The Minister of State has made it quite clear that he is prepared to take on the proposals, not all of them, that he knows he can implement. This is why he looks for us to come to an agreement so that we all know that what is agreed to pass is achievable, rather than setting out in legislation something we know cannot be achieved. It is extremely important that there is agreement by all sides on this. It is fair enough that people are pushing forward this target. While there is no problem in making sure that it is an ambitious target we must make sure it is something that can be implemented and delivered within a reasonable timeframe.
Tá áthas orm a bheith in ann labhairt ag an bpointe seo ar an díospóireacht seo. I am very happy to speak in the debate on this Stage and I welcome the guests in the Public Gallery. It is not the first time they have sat in that Gallery and it is not the first time they have heard the same excuses being used again and again about Irish Sign Language. It is simply not good enough.
We are on section 2.
Absolutely, we are looking at amendments Nos. 1 to 3 , inclusive, to the section, and amendment No. 14. We have debated this issue on quite a number of occasions over the last six years. I was a Member of the previous Seanad in which Bills had been brought forward on Irish Sign Language so this is a little like Groundhog Day for the people in the Gallery who are listening to the debate today.
I am concerned about the procedural issues we have had around the amendments. The toing and froing on the amendments and the lack of clarity leaves a lot to be desired. It concerns me if it does not concern the Minister of State.
That is a misrepresentation.
Possibly, but I am concerned that-----
I shall call on the Minister of State to clarify in a few minutes.
I am just putting together the points I would like to see clarified.
He will in due course.
Senator Burke spoke about the proposals that can be implemented and the proposals that are achievable. This might be the crux of the issue here. When we look at amendment No. 3, it refers to the different State bodies and organisations, etc., that we look to to provide Irish Sign Language supports.
This is a rights-based issue. Either people have the right to have Irish Sign Language recognised or they do not. If we are here as law-makers and saying that we will make the laws when we can put the resources in place, it is not going to happen. We have seen that in all kinds of disability areas, and the Minister of State knows that. What we are here to do is to make the law, and the system has to follow and provide the services that people are due under the civil rights obligations of the State. To me that is the issue in this case.
The Minister of State said that he did not want a political football made of this issue. I would hope that he is not making a political football of it because he is telling us about an announcement he is going to make in two weeks' time. He mentioned that he is going to be launching his own policy issue. I hope that the reason the Government is opposing a number of the amendments and causing trouble over this Bill is not because the Minister of State wants the glory when that announcement is made in two weeks' time because that simply would not be acceptable.
I am also concerned that the Minister of State referenced the Official Languages Act. He might clarify that for me. Is he referring to Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla which deals with the relationship between the State and the Irish language? Can the Minister of State clarify what the connection he sees here is and what the issues are? The two issues should not be drawn into each other. A review of that Act is happening at the moment, so I would appreciate if he could clarify what he means.
I must apologise to the Public Gallery and the Minister of State because I have to be somewhere else later on so I will not be able to stay for all of the debate which is being taken by my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile. We must vote on these amendments. I believe there will be a majority in this House who will support these amendments. The Government can come back on Report Stage with its own amendments, but I believe that we will still have the numbers in this House to support the amendments that we deem appropriate. It is time we recognise the rights of the deaf community and the need for recognition of Irish Sign Language for them. The Government has to get behind this legislation, provide those resources and make sure that they are made available, rather than pretending that once they are available it will put the legislation in place. That is totally unacceptable. It is an excuse that is being used again and again, and it must be utterly frustrating for the people who are watching this debate.
I fully support amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 as proposed by Senator Daly. We are talking about language here and not simply a means of communication. It is about the respect that is owed to the deaf community. It is of critical importance that it be enshrined in legislation. That is not just semantics but a fundamental understanding of rights and the preferences of people who are deaf to communicate in Irish Sign Language.
Widening the group of public bodies covered by this legislation is very important because of the exclusion at all levels of members of the deaf community, from education, health care and the right to justice. It is really dispiriting to read. I note the correspondence from the Irish Deaf Society. The Government's proposal to delete large tracts of the Bill is deeply concerning, and the amendments, indeed. There is a danger that we will be left with a Bill with little substance. It would be a grievous error to eliminate vast sections of the Bill on the basis that they are otherwise provided for via the national disability strategy that the Minister of State talks about. We need to have these measures enshrined at last in legislation, and we will accept nothing less. If that means breaking consensus here we will. People have waited too long.
I would like Senator Freeman to be heard on this matter. There was a very unpleasant exchange earlier when she was asked to sit down and not speak, and I would like the Leas-Chathaoirleach to look at that.
I am calling Senator Freeman next on this section.
Senator Kelleher is wrong. That was irrelevant and she should not have said that. That was section 1. The Senator is incorrect. I am sorry.
I did not like the manner in which it was made.
Order, please. Senator Kelleher is reading something into what happened. She is wrong.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and also Senator Kelleher. She was trying to right a wrong. Senator Norris was quite rude and offensive a little while ago.
I do not want to get into an argument. We are on section 2 amendments.
I absolutely support amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3. I am really disappointed that the Minister of State is not accepting the Bill. I am full of admiration for Senators Daly, Swanick and Ardagh for the hard work that they have put into this Bill and the patience of the people here who have been waiting for this for so long. They must be feeling totally and utterly frustrated. On behalf of the Senators in my group, I want to say that we will continue to support this and all the principles of this Bill.
I have afforded the Senators latitude. Would the Minister of State like to clarify something at this stage? Apologies, Senator Dolan had indicated.
I want to address amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3, but before I do I want to make a remark. The sense of frustration has already been mentioned. I believe it has gone beyond frustration at this stage. The experience of how this sitting has gone today is most likely hurtful to the deaf community. That is my view, and people can hopefully speak for themselves.
It is not intentional, I assure the Senator.
That is fine.
I am trying to follow procedure on Committee Stage.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is probably correct that it was unintentional, but there is an element of "he stepped in and she stepped out" on this paper or that paper.
I accept what the Senator is saying.
We are talking about a group of people who day in and day out experience being outsiders in every simple thing they do.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and all the folk from the deaf community, many of whom I have known over the years, and I welcome this Bill coming to the House.
With regard to language I see it again as a matter of insiders and outsiders. God knows we should know this. If people cannot have their own language they have very little as human beings. It goes to the core of people's dignity. That is why this is a hot topic. I give that as an explanation as to why there is heat around this issue. The Minister of State mentioned the disability strategy that is to come before us. That strategy, which will be published in two weeks' time, was supposed to be published a year and a half ago. There is tardiness for all sorts of reasons, but it is people with disabilities of one kind or another that find themselves listening to reasons things cannot be done when they are things that go to the core of them as human beings.
Language is a cultural thing, and even in Ireland we change the language depending on what county we are in, in the sense that we have our own accents. The same beautiful expression must be there for people who are deaf.
On amendment No. 3 there is a correct, practical litany of the Departments, the local authorities, the HSE, the universities and institutes of technology and ETBs. These are the points at which people find the door slammed. That is why there is an insistence on having these matters dealt with.
On that basis, I am happy to support these amendments.
Does the Minister of State wish to make some points of clarification?
I did not put forward any amendments because I wanted to achieve consensus first. Senator Daly took some of my draft amendments on which we were consulting and tabled them as his own. I find that odd. It is not the way to do business. We deliberately did not circulate the amendments because we had been consulting Senator Daly and the deaf community. We then delivered a shared copy of the draft amendments to all Members. In the interests of transparency and respect for Senators, we felt that all Members should see the draft amendments. That was my position. I was trying to get consensus and I was engaging with the deaf community, Gerry McGuire and my staff-----
They said the amendments were late.
The Senator was out of order.
I do not do stunts or misrepresentation. In regard to the amendments, amendment No. 2 is one of my own amendments-----
I know that.
-----that was shared with the Senator. As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I cannot logically oppose it-----
We like to flatter the Minister of State if we can.
-----but I am opposed to the Bill being handled in this way. I also reject some of the criticism regarding the civil rights issue. I am a strong supporter of civil rights, whether they be disability rights, the rights of the minority in Northern Ireland or international rights. Amendment No. 3 is again one of my own amendments that we shared with the Senator and which I cannot oppose.
The Minister of State has opposed another of them.
However, I notice that the text used in the amendment is an early draft in which we spotted a mistake, that being the inclusion of the words "following consultation with the Commission". That error was subsequently corrected. The "Commission" is the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. The definition is taken from its Act and the IHREC does not need to be referred to here. That phrase might be taken out on Report Stage. Otherwise, I am not going to oppose this group of amendments.
I know we are speaking to the amendments but this is the first time in the year and a half I have been in this House that I have been ashamed of how business is being conducted here. I do not think it has ever been heard of for a Minister of State to say that the Government would share draft amendments with every Senator and I do not think that was done in the name of transparency. It was done when it became very clear that the House would be divided and the proposed deletions of those very important sections of this Bill would not be made because this House was going to vote against the Minister of State's amendments. That is when it was decided to pull the amendments. I am absolutely disgusted. I do not want to stay here to keep debating this issue because it is fictional. We are pretending we are discussing a Bill when we are not. This Bill is about recognition but without the parts that will now be deleted on Report Stage, it is tokenistic because we will not have public bodies to prepare and implement action plans on Irish Sign Language. In the amendments sent to Senators, the Government proposed to delete that section. It proposed to delete the section providing for classes for the parents of deaf children. An amendment was proposed to the section permitting the use of Irish Sign Language in legal proceedings and the section providing for the making available of a sign language interpretational service. It was proposed to delete the section introducing statutory targets regarding the accessibility of television programmes. The Government intended to delete the section providing for the regulation of Irish Sign Language interpreters, deaf interpreters and Irish Sign Language teachers and for that purpose the establishment of the Irish Sign Language council and with this provide for the establishment of registers, continuing education requirements, offences, amendment of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and for related matters.
Recognition is not enough and if the Minister of State wanted to bring forward substantial amendments in order that we could produce something of value, he should have. It is not acceptable that he sits here today without doing what he said on the previous Stage he would do, which is to come back on Committee Stage with substantial amendments. He did not do that.
I understand the Senator is upset but I take it she is not impugning the integrity of the Chair.
I am not.
I thank the Senator. I wanted to clarify that.
I said deafness is not a party political issue, but a civil rights issue. This is an issue about the extreme marginalisation of a community and I thank the Senators who have spoken on this amendment and on other issues. I especially thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, who is sick, had an operation recently and came in to get this Bill passed. The Government withdrew its own amendment that we had also submitted with the exact same text, formally recognising Irish Sign Language. This is Committee Stage. In this country, this is where the changes are made. We cannot pretend we can agree on everything. That happens in China, where they agree on everything all the time because they have to. We have to say we can disagree. The place to make the Government's case for the amendments was in this House with its amendments. We are going to pass the Bill today through Committee Stage, I hope with the support of all Members. For the record, on Report Stage we will be submitting amendments again on every section. Perhaps the Clerk could clarify whether I have to say that as we go through the sections or whether I can do so now. The Minister of State said he would be putting forward his amendments and I do not want to fall down on technicalities. God knows there are enough technicalities on this issue.
I am advised that as long as the subject matter is dealt with substantively on Committee Stage, it will be in order to table amendments on Report Stage.
To table amendments to each section?
Yes. They must also meet the other requirements of Standing Orders.
What we are left with are a few tiny technical amendments. The ones that have been ruled out of order-----
We are dealing with section 2.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and 13, and there is another one that has a charge on the State that the Government has left in for some bizarre reason.
I told the House that.
It is stroke politics.
It beggars belief that we are in this position after ten months of discussion and negotiations. We wanted to support some amendments the Government proposed but it did not table them and therefore we did. The cynical part of this is that if the Government had tabled them, they could have been included in the Bill. We tabled them, and because of that, the Chair has ruled, as is his right, that they are a charge on the Exchequer and they now cannot be included in the Bill. We have been here long enough to know that is cynical behaviour. In regard to sections 8 and 9, I appeal to colleagues to get this through Committee Stage and then we will sit down with them again. I have no problem sitting down with the Government again on Report Stage, which will be four weeks from today, and we will change the Standing Orders and the Order of Business to take Report Stage. If the Government would like to table its amendments, that is fine. If it does not want to table its amendments and it wants to kill it technically, we will bring the Bill into the Dáil and I guarantee it will pass. We will get it to Committee Stage in the Dáil also and we will get it past that Stage with the support of Sinn Féin and the Independents. To be here after ten months of engagement, debating what is left of the amendments and the Government not having tabled its own amendments because it could not reach consensus, is incredible. Three years ago, when this Bill was shot to pieces, no one asked us about consensus. That the Government has not tabled its amendments because of the argument that there is no consensus beggars belief.
I want to reiterate some of the comments that have been made in regard to the amendments and the contribution so far. There are very few of us in this Chamber who can bring the kind of forensic clarity that Senator Ruane can bring and she has called it right in regard to this Bill. I share the concerns of my colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, and others in regard to the back and forward nature of the amendments, whether in draft form or who they were shared with and why and so on. The amendments refer to the broader sentiment of the Bill. The Second Stage discussion of this Bill was probably one of the most positive and hopeful contributions I have heard in my relatively short time in the House. Senator Daly called it right when he said that the only consensus that was talked about then was the consensus to make this a reality and have Irish Sign Language recognised as a language of this State. We know it is formally recognised in the North along with British Sign Language. This is about more than the recognition of Irish Sign Language, although that is important and fundamental. While the two issues are not comparable in every aspect, I know what it is like not to have one's language of choice recognised or facilitated by the State apparatus.
There is no merit is recognising simply for recognition's sake if the Government is not prepared to provide the necessary resources that will empower, enfranchise, embolden, facilitate and assist people who are deaf in our society.
Understandably, today's debate has been somewhat hot and heavy. Senator Mark Daly and others have made the correct point. There are competing views on this. The Minister of State has his view and that is as legitimate as everyone else's. It is not a bad thing to have competing views on legislation of this nature and this is the appropriate place for that. I look forward to continuing the discussion. For the people in the Gallery who have been here before, I am sorry we have to prolong matters. However, if today has shown anything, it is that the majority of Senators in this House are willing to turn what they, their loved ones and their community need into a reality.
I assure Senator Mark Daly that Labour will also support the Bill in the Dáil. Our understanding now is that amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive and 13 were also proposed by the Government. I wish to raise a technical point that goes to the heart of this. As Senator Mark Daly is well aware, it is common practice to have a Government amendment that is also supported by individuals from other parties or from the Independent groupings. Why were these amendments not, therefore, presented to us as Government amendments? It seems strange that the Government would - in a fit of pique, perhaps - not present them to us as also being Government amendments. If they had been presented in this way, we could agree them and move on.
May I clarify something?
Senator Devine indicated she wanted to come in.
I have been listening to the debate. There is a sharp contrast between the mood today and that which obtained in November, when the entire House and the packed Gallery celebrated. There was a great sense of achievement. Today, for some reason - I imagine it is skulduggery, but I have not got my head around it yet - there is delay after delay. Let us get the Bill through to Report Stage and tackle the amendments then.
This is where changes need to be made to ensure the Bill is technically factually correct. The reason I submitted an amendment proposing in page 6, line 19, to delete "the Republic of Ireland" and substitute "the State" is because that is the correct reference in legislation. Although Senator Norris would point out that, of course, how I allowed for the Republic of Ireland to be dropped for the State, which is only 26 counties, to be put in is because this is what we do on Committee Stage - we make the Bill work legally. I put that in because Andrew Geary and the Irish Deaf Society legal team said we should put it in. Normally, that does not happen. We took what was the State's amendment and put it in. If the State were genuine about making this Bill work, even if we could not agree on everything, would we not ensure that the version of it we pass today correctly defines the State? Why did the Government not submit that amendment? The Minister of State pointed out that he did not table any amendments because we did not have consensus.
We were told they were late.
The Government was going to allow this House to let a Bill move forward to Report Stage even though we were going to incorrectly define the legal parameters of the State. Does that sound like an Administration that wants to work with the deaf community in order to ensure that the Bill passes and is capable of working?
I wish to challenge some of the views presented. There is no difference between us in the context of recognising Irish Sign Language. The slight divergence is on how we are to get there. I support the principle of the issue. I did not withdraw the amendments. I say to Senator Mark Daly that the Bills Office does its own job and there was no Government or ministerial involvement with that office. It is outrageous to say that I intervened with the Bills Office. I had nothing to do with it.
Of course, I agree with the principle of recognition and with some of the comments about the resources issue. I am waiting for two funding requests from the deaf community business plans relating to interpretation services and important issues of that nature. I was trying to broaden the discussion, reach a consensus and get on with matters. It is as simple as that. No stunts are being pulled here. I am being upfront. I am trying to bring forward a Bill that I can get through the Oireachtas and that will deliver for people.
A number of Senators referred to resources. If we introduce legislation recognising Irish Sign Language, of course we have to put the resources in place. As I mentioned in my earlier contribution, in two weeks I will launch the national disability inclusion strategy. I am focusing considerable resources on that. That is exactly where I stand on the matter.
Will the Minister of State accept amendment No. 2?
I will chair proceedings if Senator Norris does not mind. He is more than welcome to volunteer to be the Chair some other time.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, line 19, to delete "the Republic of Ireland" and substitute "the State".
May I speak briefly on this amendment?
It was already discussed with amendment No. 1.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are technical in nature. It should be borne in mind that amendment No. 2-----
The amendment has already been discussed.
-----would involve a charge on the State. Other amendments which it is alleged involve such a charge have been ruled out of order.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, to delete lines 29 to 36 and substitute the following:
"(a) Department of State (other than, in relation to the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces) for which a Minister of the Government is responsible;
(b) a local authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2001;
(c) the Health Service Executive;
(d) a university or institute of technology;
(e) an education and training board established under section 9 of the Education and Training Boards Act 2013;
(f) any other person, body or organisation established—
(i) by or under an enactment (other than the Companies Acts) or charter,
(ii) by any Scheme administered by a Minister of the Government, or
(iii) under the Companies Acts in pursuance of powers conferred by or under another enactment, and financed wholly or partly by means of money provided, or loans made or guaranteed, by a Minister of the Government or the issue of shares held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government;
(g) a company (within the meaning of the Companies Acts) a majority of the shares in which are held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government;
(h) any other person, body, organisation or group financed wholly or partly out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas that stands prescribed for the time being (being a person, body, organisation or group that, in the opinion of the Minister, following consultation with the Commission, ought, in the public interest and having regard to the provisions and spirit of this Act, to be prescribed);".
Again, this is a technical amendment on the broadcasting elements and targets. Those targets are less than those contained in the current Broadcasting Authority of Ireland strategy, which indicates the worth of strategies as opposed to legislation.
I am sure it is a valid point, but we will move on.
Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order by the Cathaoirleach as it would involve a potential charge on the Exchequer. Does Senator Mark Daly understand that?
Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order, but the amendment that remains was drafted by the Irish Deaf Society and relates to the formal recognition of Irish Sign Language. The amendment that has been ruled out of order is exactly the same as the Government's amendment. The Government chose not to submit this amendment, which formally recognises Irish Sign Language for the first time in statute. I will read the wording into the record. This is the one the Government is not allowing to be put forward and did not put forward itself. If it had tabled this amendment, we would, of course, have supported it because it would formally recognise Irish Sign Language. If the Government had tabled the amendment, it would have involved a charge on the Exchequer. Under the rules of this House, it would then have been allowed to be passed. This is the worrying part.
This is the language the Government did not want to include even though it is its own language, but it did not table these amendments:
The State recognises the right of Irish Sign Language users to use Irish Sign Language as their native language, and the corresponding onus on all public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when availing of or seeking to access statutory entitlements and services.
While that is the wording of my amendment, it is - word-for-word - the same as that used in the amendment which the Government did not put forward. My amendment has now been ruled out of order. If the Government had put its amendment forward, it would have been allowed and would have passed, and we would have better language in the Bill. That is the purpose of Committee Stage.
The Minister of State said we could not reach consensus. We cannot reach consensus on everything but we all reached consensus on that and yet it is now ruled out of order because the Government did not put forward its identical amendment. I am disappointed with that, but the ruling of the Chair is the ruling of the Chair. I hope the Minister of State will introduce the amendment to which I refer on Report Stage.
I share that frustration. I do not question in any fashion the sincerity of the Minister of State, but he cannot say that he is for resourcing this recognition when there is something as fundamental as amendment No. 4 to section 4, which is essentially about providing recognition and resourcing. What is the point? Following up on Senator Norris's contribution, it is a ridiculous situation that Senators cannot propose something so modest but fundamental to the legislation.
We cannot seek to argue sincerely. It is not credible to tell people that we are bringing legislation recognising Irish Sign Language, ISL, as an official language of the State through the House when we cannot ask for it to be resourced. No one has gone into the specifics. Everyone appreciates that the legislation has a resource cost, but the decision ties the Seanad's hands behind its back. We must examine what we can and cannot do. I do not mean to be facetious, but I cannot get my head around this at all. I take Senator Mark Daly equally at his word. If the Government had tabled this amendment and let it form part of the legislation, it would not have been prohibited. That is a little indication and stretches my ability to take what the Minister of State is saying in good faith. If the Government had tabled this amendment as a fundamental ABC building block of the Bill, it would have empowered and resourced the legislation.
I appreciate the Chair's discretion on this matter, but the failure of the amendment to proceed, especially when Senators are working as diligently and comprehensively on this issue as Senator Mark Daly and others have worked in the past, is indicative of a broader problem as well as a broader culture that exists within these institutions.
The discussion on this amendment reinforces the idiotic and ludicrous situation that Seanad Éireann cannot create a charge on the Exchequer, yet the Government can use this House to create a charge on the Exchequer. That is lunacy, and it becomes worse when we realise that this is in our hands. I will make a direct appeal from this House to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to examine this situation immediately and reverse it so that the Seanad can create a charge on the Exchequer. If it is an unreasonable charge, the majority of Members will be against it.
For the information of Members, according to a note for the Chair, amendment No. 4 in the name of Senator Mark Daly seeks to require the State to recognise ISL and to provide users of public bodies with free interpretation when accessing services. The provision of free interpretation would have the effect of imposing a charge upon the Exchequer and, therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 41, the amendment cannot be moved save by way of a Government amendment. It is the principle-----
It is ridiculous.
The matter has been ruled on by the Cathaoirleach. I am in the Chair at the moment, so it is not a decision for me. The rules are there.
For the benefit of Members, our amendment is exactly the same as the Government amendment-----
-----that was circulated yesterday, but the Government never tabled that amendment.
Will the Senator give a commitment that his party's Members will raise this issue of creating a charge-----
-----in the committee?
For the benefit of Members, the Government's amendment had the exact same wording that has been ruled out of order. That is the disappointing part of this.
Let the record show that Fianna Fáil has given a commitment to examine at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges the question of creating a charge on the Exchequer. That is an important move.
I would like to address the issue of political cynicism. I am disappointed by Senator Mark Daly. I wanted to introduce this amendment and to achieve consensus. I wanted a wording that we all could agree. Personally, I think-----
We are agreed on it.
It is the Government's wording.
Could I make my point?
But we are agreed on it.
It is the Minister of State's wording.
A bit of ciúnas.
It is shameful that the Bill is being progressed in this way by Senator Mark Daly. I am disappointed and annoyed that he is making a party political issue out of it. Do not ever judge me on my support for the rights of all people with disabilities, including the deaf community. I will stand with them, but I am trying to get a Bill through the House and deliver on it. Regardless of what the Senator says, it will be delivered on by recognising ISL and supporting and resourcing services. I need common sense to get this through, not grandstanding and carrying on like this. The Senator is shameful and it is an appalling way to treat this issue. He should be more progressive and not let down the rights of the deaf community. I want to work with him. I wanted consensus, but that is not what is happening.
If the Minister of State agreed with this, there would be consensus on it.
This is the Minister of State's own amendment.
Why will he not support it?
This is about the formal recognition of sign language. We tabled this amendment. Had the Government tabled it after circulating it yesterday, it would have passed.
The Senator has made his point.
However, that did not happen.
This is not being party political. We are all agreed. This is the consensus that we have been looking for, but the amendment is not even being discussed.
The Senator has made his point effectively. Senator Mullen will speak next, as he has indicated. I will allow Senator Colm Burke to contribute afterwards.
I was not present for all of the debate, so apologies if it has been made clear to others, but the Minister of State has referred several times to a lack of the consensus that he had been seeking. Will he give us details on where that lack of consensus lies?
Who is looking for X, who is looking for Y, and what is it that needs to be reconciled?
I agree with the Minister of State in the sense that if we want to progress this matter for everyone's benefit, it is important that we work together instead of trying to score political points. Long before Deputy Finian McGrath became a Minister of State, he was to the fore in highlighting disability issues.
Senator Mark Daly's party was in power for 14 years-----
Here we go. Who is making a party political point now?
What about this day?
-----and not a thing was done about this. I would say on this matter-----
I am sorry, but was the Senator here when the Government voted against this three years ago?
Senator Daly, please.
Was that the Senator or was that someone else?
Senator, resume your seat, please.
In fairness to the Minister of State and all parties in government, we want to progress this matter and deliver on every aspect that is passed by the House. It is important that we progress this issue, give ISL recognition,-----
Is the Senator opposing the amendment?
-----give it the legal status that it deserves and provide backup services. That is exactly what the Minister of State and the Department want to do.
If Senator Conway wishes to contribute, I will then allow the Minister of State to reply to Senator Mark Daly.
The Minister of State has put out his hand looking for consensus. It is easy-----
There is consensus.
We agree with the Government's amendment. The Government just did not table it.
Hang on one second. I have just got up. Only one sentence has left my mouth and the Senators are already heckling. Forget about it. That is hardly the way to do business.
I have always contributed in the House in a positive manner. This is my first time speaking in the debate, so the last thing that should happen the minute I stand is for all of the Senators to heckle me. What is the idea? That is hardly consensus or respect for people. It is disgraceful. I have always admired Senator Mark Daly for championing this issue. In the previous Seanad, I tabled a Private Members' motion on this issue. We debated it for two hours and it received consensus. The heckling of me has been disgraceful.
Senator Mullen asked what were the issues on which I wanted consensus. For reasons that I have outlined, I wanted to hammer out agreement on a number of issues - the establishment of a scheme to provide for ISL classes, the provision by the State of an annual number of hours of interpretation services, the drafting by all public bodies of individual ISL action plans every three years, the establishment of a new body known as the Irish Sign Language Council, the establishment of a register of ISL teachers and the creation - this was a cause of major difficulty - of a new criminal offence to allow for the prosecution of a person who is not registered as an interpreter but who provides interpretation or teaching services for remuneration or reward.
I wanted to discuss the Bill's provisions with people. They were either unnecessary in legislation or onerous and took an inappropriate approach to the provision of services for users of ISL, and they should be deleted from the Bill. I want to sit down and discuss these issues.
We agree with the principle of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. We agree with the resources, but I would like more consensus and support. I thought we could proceed in a more sensible and logical way. I want to ensure that when we bring the Bill to the Dáil, it is solid and also respects the rights of all people who are fighting for the Irish Sign Language issue.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 have been ruled out of order for the same reason as amendment No. 4.
The amendment that has been ruled out of order is exactly the same as the Government amendment that was circulated but we have made additions to it. The amendment specifically relates to court proceedings and we wanted to ensure it was technically correct. The Irish Deaf Society with its legal team drafted the Bill. When we looked at the Government amendment, we realised ours was better, so we tabled it. The Government also circulated that same amendment and never tabled it. Now it has been ruled out of order because it is a charge on the State. We all agree on it. There is consensus. The Minister of State states he wants to bring the best Bill that could work to the Dáil. It is a fundamental right that members of the deaf community would be able to ensure that they have interpreters in a court case in which they are involved. The Minister of State stated that the amendment we circulated yesterday was not up to scratch. We agreed and tabled an amendment similar to the Government amendment, however, the Government did not table its amendment and now our amendment has been ruled out of order because it is a charge on the State. A Government amendment would have been accepted and the legislation would be better.
We are talking about consensus, however, in the areas we have reached a consensus, the Minister of State has not tabled the amendments. That is disturbing. We will see how we get on on Report Stage.
I did not circulate the amendments because I was attempting to be respectful, get consensus and have agreement.
Amendment No. 5 deals with one of the three key elements of the Bill, that I consider needed to be retained, as I said earlier. It ensures the important recognition by the State of Irish Sign Language. The amendment states that a person may use Irish Sign Language in, or in any pleading in, any court. I am a strong supporter of rights.
Amendment No. 7 in the name of Senator Daly has been ruled out of order as it is a potential charge on the Revenue.
I have written to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges asking it to reverse this decision. I am looking for support from every Member of the House.
I thank Senator Norris.
This is an addition to the provision of a sign language interpreter in court, which is in addition to what the Government proposes. However, the amendment has been ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 7 proposes to insert a new section that relates to the use of Irish Sign Language in legal proceedings. There is a reference to a presiding officer in this provision. It is not clear who this is in relation to in legal proceedings. Subject to legal advice, this provision does not appear to be necessary. Subsections (1) to (4) are enough to put the right person to use Irish Sign Language in court proceedings. I am not sure why the Senator sees to need to go further.
Amendment No. 7 is about communication for deaf children. It is not about the court.
We are dealing with section 6. Amendment No. 7 has been ruled out of order.
Amendment No. 7 deals with communications for deaf children. The Minister of State did not address the issue.
May I address that matter briefly?
Senator Daly may discuss section 6.
I am delighted that Mr. Andrew Geary is present in the Visitors Gallery because he has championed the cause of deaf children in education. This very comprehensive amendment, which has been ruled out of order, made it a requirement that the State would provide interpreters for children in education. Mr. Geary had to fight tooth and nail and had to go to court in order to get interpreters for his children.
Some who act as interpreters in the education system are not qualified for the role. We want to address this issue. Section 6 states:
The Minister shall, by regulations made under this section, establish a scheme for the provision of Irish Sign Language classes to—
(a) parents, siblings, grandparents of a child who is deaf, and
(b) other persons who serve in loco parentis or as a guardian to a child who is deaf.
Persons who serve in loco parentis would be teachers. We would need to tighten the section because at present the requirement is for the Minister to do so under regulation and there is no provision for when the regulations will be signed into law.
I speak in support of Senator Daly. I had a communication last year from a young woman who had been in school who did brilliantly in mathematics and failed in English. The reason turned out to be that she had an interpreter for the maths class but there was no interpreter for the English class. This illustrates perfectly the need to give people the opportunity to have interpreters in classes.
Section 6 is one of the sections that I propose to be deleted. My opening statement applies to this. I note that amendment No. 7 refers to the wrong Minister. The reference should be to the Minister for Education and Skills. I may, but only if we are able to achieve consensus and not otherwise, look at this section again on Report Stage. I have indicated to the deaf community representatives that I am willing to look at what we can include in the Bill on education issues and talk to my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, if that helps in achieving a broad consensus on how we move forward.
I am a little concerned that the Minister of State states that if we achieve consensus he will look at the Bill. That almost suggests that in defiance of the principle that if we do not kowtow to him, he will not look at it.
Apologies, I did mean it that way.
The Minister of State has placed on record that he did not mean it that way. I was surprised at the remark, but obviously it was inadvertent.
There are two amendments in the name of Senator Daly to section 7. Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed. Agreed.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, to delete lines 10 and 11 and substitute the following:
“(a) 18,000 hours with a maximum of 60 hours per person per year by 2018, and
(b) 36,000 hours with a maximum of 120 hours per person per year by 2020.”.
I ask colleagues to support this amendment.
Does this amendment not create a charge on the Exchequer?
The amendment has been reviewed already by the Cathaoirleach.
It must cost something to provide the number of hours. Are there wonderful volunteers from the deaf community who will provide up to 60,000 hours for damn all? Does this create a charge on the Exchequer?
The Cathaoirleach has already ruled that it does not.
I think we should have a round of applause for the volunteers who will do interpreting free of charge. Bravo Ireland, you are rearing them yet.
The amendment has been ruled on by the Cathaoirleach. It is accepted as a valid amendment. It can be voted down or accepted. We are dealing with amendments Nos. 8 and 9 together.
This does not need to be in legislation. I am waiting to find out how such a scheme might operate and how much it might cost.
A funding request creates a charge on the Exchequer.
I think the section can be deleted. The issue is how we provide funding and operate such a scheme. My opening statement applies. The word that I have been trying to use all day, is reaching a consensus. I will look again at this section on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 9 seems unnecessary. I am not clear how it adds anything to what is already in the section, which as I have said can be deleted. I am not opposed to it.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
“(4) The Minister shall, within 12 months of the passage of this Act, make Regulations to provide for a scheme addressing this section and such ancillary matters as the Minister shall deem appropriate.”
As the Minister of State gets his thoughts together I shall make a point about costs and money. This is a human rights issue so costs should be irrelevant. One cannot put a cost on human rights, accessibility to society and accessibility to State services. With due deference to the Acting Chairman, who is representing the Cathaoirleach, this matter should not be reduced to pounds, shillings and pence.
In many ways it was pounds, shillings and pence that destroyed this country in the early noughties.
Will Senator Conway support the removal of the provision from Standing Orders?
I would love to see it removed.
The Senator has made a fair point.
Senators should make their comments through the Chair.
Senator Norris makes sense every now and then.
I always talk sense.
Amendment No. 10 has been ruled out of order as it involves a charge on revenue. I assume a similar point has been made multiple times already but does Senator Daly wish to comment?
The Minister of State can comment.
The Minister of State can go ahead.
Does Senator Daly wish to comment?
There is a consensus, Minister of State.
We have a bit of consensus, Senator Daly.
I concede so he should go first.
There is a consensus that the Minister of State goes first.
Amendment No. 10 would have been identical to what the Government intends with the one exception - the use of the word "required". The standard in my amendment would be "all that is reasonable." We cannot impose an obligation on public bodies that is impossible to fulfil. I want to see it established in law that public bodies have a duty to provide free interpretation in the circumstances covered by the section. It makes no sense to put statutory bodies in breach of legislation when the reality is that there are not enough providers for the service. That is the real world. The amendment would not have been the right approach. We need to further discuss the matter. I hope we can again achieve some sort of agreement on this particular issue. To me, the use of the words "reasonable standard" on Report Stage is the sensible option.
Amendment No. 10 has been ruled out of order as it involved a charge on revenue.
I disagree with what the Minister of State has said. The watering down of a requirement on public bodies will mean that nothing will happen. Therefore, the section must be as strong as possible and I disagree with his proposal. I would like him to consider making the provision as strong as possible in order to help people who need access to supports and education.
I have read the briefing and learned that people who are deaf are ten times less likely to attend university. What if there is a weasel word or a get-out clause that allows a university or third level institution to say, "It was impractical," "We did not have the money," or "We would have liked to?" The use of the word "required" is about making sure that the pressure placed on the public body is as strong as possible so that a person can exercise his or her human right to education, health or any other thing.
I remind everybody that we have about 22 minutes left to get through about 22 sections. Some of the sections do not have amendments so we will probably get through them fairly quickly. In order for every Senator to have an opportunity to speak I ask everyone to keep their contributions as brief as possible. I call Senators Norris, Dolan and Conway, in that order.
I would like to comment on universities. I think that Trinity College is pretty good and has been for many years in terms of disability. I cannot speak for the other universities but I am sure that they are also pretty good.
I support the use of the word "required".
The Minister of State referenced the situation where there may be a dearth of interpreters. The best way to amend that is to require State bodies to have them. Pressure will produce them. If there is no pressure then the situation will remain static and we will not have interpreters. I support the use of the word "required". We should require. People have talked about human rights. Yes, if it is a human right then let us give it to people.
In terms of the juxtaposing of "required" and "reasonable", is the following reasonable? Let us assume two children in a family, who are approaching the age of 18, are sitting around chatting to their aunts, uncles or whoever who ask them where they will go next year. One of them will be able to make the normal reply that he or she is thinking of this college, that college or whatever. The sibling with a disability will be silent because of the gap between "required" and "reasonable".
As much as €1.5 billion has been spent, just to take this issue, on third level education in Ireland. That is a lot of money. The problem arises for the person who is deaf or has any disability because it is the extra cost above the normal for everyone else that is looked at in the accounting, not taking that small number of people against the whole budget for that institution or for that sector. That is where the rub comes into play. The institution or the system will say that it costs too much for a person with a disability but it is a very marginal cost when compared with the whole €1.5 billion. That is the problem that the word "reasonable" does not reasonably get us over.
I see the logic in using the word "required", to be frank. I would like a little more definition of a public body. For example, is Dublin Bus considered a public body? What happens if somebody gets on a bus that belongs to Dublin Bus? I have probably stretched this matter a bit. I would like clarity on exactly what is a prescribed public body before I sit comfortably with the word "required".
May I be of assistance to the Senator?
I believe it is defined in amendment No. 3.
It is defined in amendment No. 3. That is right.
The last thing we want is for the provision to become completely unworkable as it would not achieve a result.
I call Senator Bacik. I again ask people to be as brief as possible.
If we reject this provision then so be it. It is no big deal.
We would prefer to get it through, I think.
I shall be brief as other Senators have spoken very eloquently.
Section 8 was one of the sections that many of us engaged with the Irish Deaf Society and other representatives on, most particularly because immense concern was expressed that the section would not be watered down or diluted unduly. Certainly, the proposed ministerial amendment that we saw, or the draft amendment, appeared to be of real concern in that it would dilute the provision.
It is important to note, and as Senator Norris has pointed out, a public body is clearly defined in section 2 of the Bill and, indeed, we have now amended the definition by way of amendment No. 3. It is quite a precise definition of a public body. It is important that section 8 is read in the context of the definition. I support the section as personally constituted.
We are trying to get through the business. Does Senator Colm Burke wish to make a contribution?
Senator Conway mentioned Dublin Bus. Paragraph (g) of amendment No. 3 reads: "a company (within the meaning of the Companies Acts) a majority of the shares in which are held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government." Therefore, a public body would mean that that is covered by the section.
I will make a couple of quick points. I understand there is a time limit.
There is plenty of time.
Senators Norris and Bacik have stated that the definition of a public body can be found in amendment No. 3 to section 2.
The use of the phrase "all that is reasonable" to meet a duty is not a get-out clause because every decision by these organisations is reviewable by the Ombudsman as well. We need to ensure that decisions are examined. Of course, I share the concern expressed and I have dealt with the matter. Senator Conway raised a transport issue. It is appalling that people with disabilities must still ring the night before to book public transport. We are trying to work on the issue. In fact, I raised the issue both with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and at the Cabinet meeting yesterday, and also the whole issue of employment.
Senator Kelleher raised the issue of unemployment among people in the deaf community. It is an appalling situation, and I agree with her 100%. Yesterday, I made the point at the Cabinet meeting that every single Department around the Cabinet table has a responsibility. There are highly-talented people in the deaf community and it is unacceptable that they are unemployed. The issue will form part of my national inclusion disability strategy.
I thank the Minister of State.
I would like to briefly bring up a matter on section 29. The Minister of State raised the issue of penalties and this is an issue of concern. The reason there were penalties added to this clause is because there have been cases of unqualified people, sent and paid by interpreting services, going to hospitals, pretending to be interpreters and interpreting for people who are critically ill. The hospitals had been informed that they were not qualified interpreters and yet they continued to use them for months afterwards. The people were eventually stopped.
I do not want to see criminal sanctions. I would rather we had a system that worked, but I think it is important that there are consequences for people who pretend to be interpreters, especially in cases of life and death or in legal cases where people's liberty is at stake. I agree with the Minister of State that he might bring in an amendment at some stage. There have to be consequences for unqualified people pretending to be interpreters and putting lives at risk.
I take the Senator's point. We cannot have that situation. The positive way to deal with this is to have more interpreters, highly trained and highly regulated. It is as simple as that. That is my objective.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 18, to delete line 4 and substitute the following:
“2018 2019 2020 2021”.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 18, to delete line 22 and substitute the following:
“2018 2019 2020 2021”.
I would like to make a brief comment on the issue of targets for broadcasting. As I mentioned already to Members, and I thank them for their support, the issue with broadcasting is that the current targets are not being met. The targets that we have put in this legislation are actually lower than the usual targets and the amendments that were sent around to Members yesterday proposed to take them out. We are asking for less.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 5, to delete lines 17 to 28.
We may be proposing amendments on Report Stage to delete any sections not discussed.
We will also be putting forward amendments. I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House and I thank all the colleagues for their support. I thank those who spoke on the amendments and I thank Senator Martin Conway who has always been very supportive of the issue of sign language recognition in the past.
I and members of the deaf community and colleagues here would be delighted to engage with the Minister of State again to see if we can reach consensus. We may not agree on everything but we must try to get this through before the summer. We will then bring it into the Dáil and try to make sure that we have a Bill that works and that is practical and reasonable. I look forward to that debate and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House and his officials for the many meetings. We have not agreed on some things but I think that we have progressed things a bit. We have a long way to go, however, to get this across the line as something that will work for the deaf community.
On behalf of Fine Gael and as the party spokesperson in this area, I commend Senator Daly. I absolutely defend him and I know that his heart is completely in the right place with this. We have spoken many times on it. It is quite generous of Senator Daly to allow one month to achieve consensus. I call on the Minister of State to play his role in achieving the necessary consensus as well because this is an extremely important human rights issue for many citizens in this country.
I thank the Senators for their contributions today and for the lively debate. I also assure members of the deaf community here today that while we have differences on different aspects of the legislation, there is unity on respecting rights and on recognising Irish Sign Language as a national language and as something that we are very proud of. I give the House a commitment that I will do my best at all times to work with Senator Mark Daly and all of the other Senators in the House that proposed the ideas. There is a broad consensus that we want the rights of Irish Sign Language users respected in this State. I am afraid to use the word "consensus" again because of the civil war but looking at the divergence of comments raised earlier on, it is good to have a good lively debate and a good row. Perhaps something positive will come out of it then at the end.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
One month from today.
I thank the Senators and the Minister of State and I ask the Acting Leader to propose a suspension until 3 p.m.
I propose a suspension of the House until 3 p.m.
Is that agreed? Agreed.