I welcome the representatives of the deaf community to the Public Gallery for this very important debate. Before we commence I remind the House that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage with the exception of the proposer of an amendment who may reply to discussion on the amendment. I also remind the House that on Report Stage each amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1 is a Government amendment which is also in the names of Senators Mark Daly and Lorraine Clifford-Lee. Recommittal is necessary in respect of this amendment as it creates a cost on the public revenue under Standing Order 160.
Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016: Report and Final Stages
Amendments Nos. 1, 3 to 6, inclusive, and 8 are related and will be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Which amendments were they?
Amendments Nos. 1, 3 to 6, inclusive, and 8. Only the grouping was agreed.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and all the Senators in the House. I am delighted to be here again and to have been able to achieve consensus on this Bill. I commend Senator Mark Daly for his magnificent work. I also thank and commend members of the deaf community for all of the work put into achieving this consensus.
It is important that I, as Minister of State, recognise the value of the work of the Seanad in respect of this issue, but also in respect of the broader issues in society. We had a debate a number of years ago on the abolition of the Seanad. When I was in opposition, I strongly supported the Senators in that campaign. One of the reasons I supported them was because of work such as we are doing today. It is very important work for Irish society and, in this context, it is great work for the deaf community.
Senator Mark Daly has tabled a small number of amendments which do not reflect the Government amendments. I hope that during the debate we will be able to reach agreement on these. I have an open mind on these issues and I want to listen to what the Senator and others have to say. I will be very open to accepting the consensus opinion of the House on each of these points.
I have difficulty in principle with amendment No. 9. If Senator Mark Daly is happy to accept my amendments instead, amendments Nos. 10 and 11, I will be able to reciprocate on the other issues on which we have slightly different approaches. The amendments we are now discussing are all technical. They include an amendment of the Title of the Bill to reflect other amendments which we will discuss this afternoon, and the deletion of definitions of words or phrases which will no longer form part of this Bill and are therefore unnecessary. The rule, which is a sensible one, is that definitions must relate to words and phrases which are used in the Act and which must be defined for clarity.
Other amendments include a regulation-making power which relates to the definition of a public body in section 2, so that regulations can be made to include new public bodies, if necessary and if desired, in respect of section 2(h), which allows for additional public bodies to be prescribed; and a correction of the text of that section by deleting the words "following consultation with the Commission". These words were included in error and are taken from the equivalent definition in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.
I commend amendment No. 1 to the House.
I thank the Minister of State.
By way of clarification, as the names of Senators Daly and Clifford-Lee were attached to this amendment before it was recommitted, I will be giving priority to those who originally moved the amendment.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I thank colleagues for their support on this Bill. I thank the Minister of State and his staff. In respect of the amendments and the Minister of State's explanation of the reason for the changes, which we have gone through in detail with his officials, and the preamble to the Bill, which is dealt with in amendment No. 1, we support the Minister of State and thank his officials for their assistance in this regard.
As the Minister of State has pointed out, they are merely technical and we are happy that consensus could be reached.
I second the remarks of Senator Mark Daly and thank the Minister of State for his work and co-operation. I know he has a personal commitment to the issue. I also thank my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, for his dedication to the Bill down through the years.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House again. He has shown great and sympathetic interest in the Bill. He is committed to the area. I also welcome, in particular, members of the deaf community. I am glad to say that we have a signer with us today, which is not allowed in the Dáil and shows another advantage of Seanad Éireann. On the Order of Business today, the question of a signer for the emergency committee report that was broadcast on RTÉ television was raised. There was a signer, who was very noticeable. I was interested in following his signage.
I received a list of amendments proposed by the deaf groups and I signed them up immediately and sent them to the Bills Office. However, I was advised that it would be better if I withdrew them as Senator Daly was in consultation with the Government. Having taken a significant part in the debate, I am sorry that I did because, had I not, I would have had my name on all the amendments. However, that is a small issue that does not really matter all that much.
I compliment Senator Daly on his lengthy discussions with the Government and his success. Some 42 of 46 amendments originally proposed by the deaf community via Senator Daly have now been supported by the Government. One of the four remaining amendments was ruled out of order as it would create an expense on the Exchequer and the other three are small matters that are up for agreement and the Minister of State has suggested compromise. I also compliment the members of the deaf community for their persistence in pushing the Bill. Since it has pretty well all been agreed and I have a Commencement matter tomorrow, I will go home and study for that matter, but not before I have complimented the Minister of State, Seanad Éireann and Senator Daly, in particular, on concluding this work. It is important that the legislation becomes operative and that the Bill becomes an Act of the Oireachtas.
I understand there is a prospect that the amendment which has been ruled out of order as it would create a charge on the Exchequer will be more substantially addressed in Dáil Éireann.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I commend Senator Daly. I understand the Minister of State is supportive and Sinn Féin is also proud to support the legislation. I was reading a contribution by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in the Dáil on 10 November 2016 about the report of the committee on justice and equality. He mentioned, as Senator Norris did now, the interpreters who were present in that Chamber. It was a first for that Chamber but having an interpreter has been normalised for me in these debates. I welcome them and I welcome everyone in the Gallery. Sinn Féin will support amendments Nos. 1, 3 to 6, inclusive, and 8.
As others have done, I welcome the strong representation of people in the Gallery today. I know many of them over the years. I am pleased to compliment Senator Mark Daly on the work that has been done collaboratively with the Minister of State and his officials to be able to get to this point today. I congratulate them all on being able to do it.
Not wishing to put a sting in the tail, reference was made to the availability of sign language interpretation yesterday. That happened because it was brought to people's attention yesterday. It was not planned. I mentioned this earlier today and I am not trying to go over old ground, but the point is that all too often we presume everything will be okay for everyone or that everyone can hear or read in the same way. That is not so, which is why a cultural shift and the push to have this happen is important.
I know of no other group across the broad disability family that feels exclusion so innately as those who are deaf. Many of us take for granted the ability to be involved ordinarily in human intercourse with others and to hear. I hope a lesson has been learned from yesterday, which is that it is important these things happen. It was not important just for deaf people that there was sign interpretation. It was important for everyone else watching it to realise that some of our neighbours do not get the updates and do not know what is happening. It is a reminder or a little sting for the rest of us to think about others who cannot pick things up in the easy way and the usual way that we can.
We should all be grateful for the determination of those who are deaf, their families their and supporters and the huge reserve of work they carried out before this got to Senator Mark Daly.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for agreeing to the amendments. I compliment the deaf community on its work to date on the proposed amendments which Senators Daly and Clifford-Lee have brought to this conclusion. I met members of the deaf community in Limerick. They were good at putting forward suggestions on how compromise could be reached. I also compliment the Minister of State. He has taken these proposals on board and this can be worked on. Everyone wants the same conclusion which is that the deaf community would be involved, considered and included. The signing yesterday on the national disaster was positive and well-received. In other major events, it should be compulsory to have someone signing.
Níl mé ach chun a rá cúpla focal ar an mBille seo le tacú leis an méid oibre atá déanta agus leis an méid atá ráite go dtí seo. I welcome the guests in the Gallery. There are some familiar faces. They have been here on many occasions and are very welcome again today. It is hoped that we will have a positive outcome today. I welcome the signers as well for their work. The conciliatory nature of the Minister of State coming in today is important. We have seen the Bill in different guises over the past number of years and, to be quite honest, the Ministers have not been as conciliatory when they came into this House. It is good to see that there has been a change of heart on the part of the Government.
We have soldiered on the Bill for hours in this Chamber over the past number of years and I commend Senator Daly for the great work he has put into it. Fair play to him. He deserves recognition for all his work.
The Minister of State understands that we should not be patting ourselves on the back. This is a question of civil rights. This is about the rights of people who are deaf and their being able to live their lives the same way as anyone else in the State. This is about them being able to apply for a job, have an interview, engage with the courts and do whatever day-to-day business they may wish to do. They have the added difficulty of having a hearing impairment or being fully deaf and the State should have recognised this right much sooner.
Let us hope this Bill moves speedily through the House. It is a good testament to the Seanad that we have had the tenacity to stick with this Bill and that it is being brought forward. The contributions across the House have been fairly unanimous that this needs to be done as quickly as possible.
I apologise that I cannot remain for the rest of the debate on the Bill. My colleague, Senator Warfield, will take it on our behalf. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of what is being achieved here today and welcomes it wholeheartedly.
I welcome the comments from all Senators and totally endorse what they said, particularly about the exclusion of the deaf community. It is not acceptable any more and I agree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh that it is a civil rights issue. We are all on the same page in that respect.
In the emergency over the past couple of days, Senator Dolan is right that the intervention of the deaf community focused our minds. The good news is that people listened and responded to it. The days of exclusion are ending. We need to focus on this and ensure that every citizen in this State is treated in an equitable manner and that is part of my agenda. That is why I warmly welcome Senator Daly's Bill.
Amendments Nos. 2, 42 and 43 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
Amendment No. 2 deletes the Short Title of the Bill by agreement but there is no agreement on its replacement. Amendment No. 42 is the Government's replacement. We are looking for a different format for the Short Title in respect of when the Bill comes into operation. Our amendment proposes that it "come into operation on such day or days not later than 3 years after the passing of this Act". While that may seem a long time off, the Government amendment does not give a date when it would come into operation. It states that it: "shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may appoint by order or orders either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision". The important point is that if the Government falls next year and the provisions of this Bill are not enacted, it may never be enacted. We have seen, unfortunately, time and again, Bills passed by this House and the other House, which the Minister of State has supported, outlining regulations that should take effect but which have never come in. We all agree to amendment No. 2, that the old Short Title of the Bill passed on Committee Stage should be deleted but some timeline is needed.
We fought for one year but there are many provisions in this Bill which it will take Government some time to put in place. There is the provision that the Courts Service must ensure that sign language interpreters are available, and, as discussed with members of the deaf community, there is not capacity for that now. It would be unfair of us to put a burden on the State that we know is not achievable today or in 12 months' time. In three years' time there will be a different Government and it may not be the case that the Minister of State will hold his current portfolio although we hope he might be, supporting a Fianna Fáil-led Government.
Senator Warfield may be there as well. Or Senator Dolan.
The point is that there is a three-year deadline for the provisions of the Act to come into place. In the Government's proposal there is no end date.
Amendment No. 2 is a technical one, which moves a section to the end of the Bill. Once we have agreed the suite of amendments before us we will have a much shorter Bill with just one part. The convention in respect of short Bills is that the commencement provision comes at the end. Then we have two variations, in that the Government's amendment is for a standard commencement provision, whereas Senator Daly wants to specify that the Bill will automatically come into operation after three years. I have no objection in principle to that and am happy to listen to what the Senator has to say and am listening to him and other Members of the House on this issue.
Amendment No. 43 compels the Minister to commence the Act within a specified timeframe. Sinn Féin supports this amendment and will not support amendment No. 42.
The amendments as grouped mean that amendment No. 2 will delete the section and we accept amendment No. 43, which proposes a three-year timeline.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 16 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
Amendment No. 7 is a technical amendment. Amendment No. 16 proposes "A court or a public body, in compliance with its obligations under this Act, shall not engage the services of a person providing Irish Sign Language interpretation unless the person's competence has been verified by having been accredited in accordance with an accreditation scheme funded by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection." This is a very important amendment that we have negotiated and agreed with the Government. It replaces a raft of sections about setting up a sign language council. It requires that only qualified sign language interpreters can be hired by the State. This follows discussions with the deaf community because even when interpreters brought into hospitals were not qualified or nearly fit to do the job, the State continued to employ them because it used an interpreting company for sign language and other languages and assumed that these people were qualified. Despite being presented with the fact that they were not qualified, it continued unfortunately to hire these people.
We are trying to achieve a situation whereby there is an onus on public bodies to take only interpreters from an accredited service funded by the State. I thank the Minister, his advisers and the Department for reaching an agreement on what is a laborious and detailed section to ensure interpreters hired by the State are fit for purpose.
We want to ensure public bodies only use the services of interpreters who are competent and whose competence has been verified by accreditation under the new scheme to be put in place by the SLIS, for which funding via the CIB has been agreed. In response to the issues raised by the deaf community, the commitments to ISL in the national disability inclusion strategy have also been strengthened. In addition to providing to the extension of working hours in the ISL remote interpretation centre to evenings and weekends, the new national disability inclusion strategy, which was published on 14 July, supports the legislation to ensure all public bodies provide ISL users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of their statutory services. A new action will ensure that the sign language information 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 and there will be ongoing professional training and development provided for interpreters.
As already announced, I have secured the funding for these actions, the details of which will be provided in 2018 and which will be worked out in dialogue with the SLIS, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Citizens Information Board. This will ensure we have sufficient and sufficiently competent interpreters available so that public bodies can meet their obligations and so that the ISL user and the public body can be confident that the interpretation service is of a high quality. It has happened in other countries that interpreters were not of a high quality and it was a complete disaster. We are well aware of what happened, for example, at the funeral of Nelson Mandela and we want to make sure this does not happen when public servicers are being provided to ISL users here.
Acceptance of this amendment has been agreed on the basis that we do not need the provision relating to the establishment of a new public body, which the Government regards as inappropriate for meeting the real needs of ISL users, or the amendments relating to establishment of a statutory register and scheme of accreditation. Amendments Nos. 32 to 39, inclusive, therefore, propose the deletion of the provisions of the Bill relating to the accreditation of interpreters. The bottom line is to make sure we have competent, credible people who provide a high quality public service.
I commend Senator Mark Daly on his tenacity in bringing this to us and it is great that the Minister of State listened with openness and sincerity to the proposals. The Cork Deaf Club lobbied me very well and a competent interpreter raised the burning issue of competence, verification and accreditation of a person who would translate the will and preferences of a deaf person in any setting, particularly a court setting or a health setting. The club identified harrowing situations when this went horribly wrong for people, with huge consequences. I welcome this provision and I am glad the Minister of State is acting on this now and that we do not have to wait three years for good and competent, verified, accredited people to be available to the deaf community for difficult situations involving health, well-being and legal matters.
Amendment No. 8 is a Government amendment which is also in the names of Senators Mark Daly and Clifford-Lee and arises out of recommittal proceedings.
Amendment No. 9, in the names of Senators Mark Daly and Clifford-Lee, is out of order.
May I speak to it?
Not when it is out of order, I am afraid.
Recommittal in respect of amendment No. 10 is necessary as it creates a cost on public revenue. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.
My objective in amendment No. 10 is to replace the existing section 1 with a text that strengthens the recognition of Irish Sign Language and links it explicitly to the duty on public bodies to provide users of Irish Sign Language with free interpretation when availing of, or seeking access to, statutory entitlements and services. One key provision of the Bill will be of critical importance in helping to ensure the users of ISL can, in practice, gain access on an equal basis with others to public services. I have listened very carefully to the deaf community on how difficult it can be to gain access to public services and we have crafted this improvement to the Bill, which I hope we can agree to, so as to address that issue.
Amendment No. 11 proposes the deletion of the reference to the fostering, extension and transmission of deaf culture in section 2. There are two difficulties here. The first is a definitional one; it is not clear how one can define "culture" in this context. The second is a more serious objection in that it is entirely wrong in principle for the Government or the Oireachtas to purport to have the right to say any group of people does not have the right to develop its culture or partake in cultural events. People have the right to go about their lives without interference by, or the approval of, the State. If we declare in legislation that the State grants the right to develop culture we could, equally logically, provide for a community not to have that right and this is a precedent we should not set. If we were to insert "we shall not have the right" we would be including a provision that would amount to unconstitutional interference in the right of the deaf community to organise itself and live its life without such interference. It is not necessary to legislate for something that people have an inherent right to do, unless there are special circumstances that impose a compelling logic. There is no need to do so in this instance.
I accept that the Senators might apply the same logic to the rest of subsection 2 and they may have a point in this, but the difference is that we are linking the right to use ISL with the obligation on public bodies to provide free interpretation so the positive statement in the rest of subsection 2 serves a useful purpose. However, it is not necessary to make a similar statement in legislation in relation to the development and transmission of culture and the House should not set such an undesirable precedent. I note that amendment No. 9 has been ruled out of order.
We have had long discussions about this and the Bill is entitled the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. The symbolic recognition provided for in the current drafting is not only important, but central to the issue. We support amendments Nos. 10 and 11 but perhaps the Minister would facilitate a motion, either in this House or in the Dáil, on the recognition of the rights of the deaf community at some future date.
We thank him for his amendment and the work of his officials to provide the explanation he has outlined to the House of the reasoning behind the amendment.
I join with those who have commended Senator Daly and all of the advocates who have brought the Bill to this point. While the amendment is due to be accepted, I want to add to Senator Daly's remarks and put a question to the Minister of State. There is a duty in terms of culture that is not entirely outside the role of the State. At a Council of Europe level, we have a document, In From the Margins, which states that there is a responsibility to ensure participation in cultural life is available to all. While I understand absolutely that this may need to be amended in the Bill, I urge that as the legislation comes to pass, we do not simply restrict the availability of translation services to those very urgent and essential areas my colleague highlighted, including the courts, medicine and access to services. We must also set an ambition for the State to ensure that those who are deaf are able to participate in and, importantly, contribute to other aspects of the cultural life of the State so that we in the hearing community can avail of translators also and the cultural perspectives of those who may be deaf. There is a responsibility in the context of culture and there may be other mechanisms besides the Bill where that can be carried forward.
I accept what Senator Daly has said. It may be that in the future we will facilitate a motion in the Dáil and Seanad as that would be a very important statement. I will absolutely take the views of Senator Higgins on board. I take the point about participation in culture. Not to be excluded but rather to be actively involved is very important. A few months ago, we had a statement of recognition of the ethnicity of Travellers. Having spoken to people in that community, I know it gave them a great lift and a great sense of inclusion. I accept that we have a hell of a lot of work to do to implement the rights around that and if anybody wants to come at me on it, I will acknowledge that we need to do a lot more. The level of exclusion that goes on regarding the deaf community is unacceptable. The good news is that we are moving in the right direction, albeit we must, of course, move faster and ensure that we not only respect their cultural rights but also address the issue for the broader society. Senator Dolan mentioned the impact of the sign language interpreters on television during the crisis over the last few days, not only on the deaf community but on the broader society. It sent out a message which I have absolutely seen.
Senator Higgins mentioned culture. There is a huge debate going on at the moment among the disability community on arts, culture and drama. A great deal of work is being done which we need to focus on. It has huge potential. It is not a matter solely for the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities; I speak regularly to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on the arts and funding for arts projects for people with different kinds of disability. There are huge numbers of talented people in the disability community who we are not getting at and who are not brought into the broader society to make the contribution they wish to. I am listening very carefully to what the Senators say.
To follow on from the contribution of Senator Higgins, I note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right not to be discriminated against as a result of cultural choices. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes the right to access culture in accordance with Article 15 thereof. There is a right to cultural expression in accordance with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Sinn Féin would have voted in favour of amendment No. 9 had it not been ruled out of order and we will support amendment No. 10.
We propose to change the section to more closely follow the format of the Official Languages Act 2003. This section along with section 4 captures the full range of courts and public bodies, including the Workplace Relations Commission, which adjudicates complaints under employment, equality and equal status legislation. I commend the amendment to the House.
I am a practising solicitor as well as being a Senator and I consider the amendment to be vital. To have interpretation services available in court proceedings, whether civil or criminal, is very important. There have been a number of very tragic cases in recent years where members of the deaf community were involved in court cases but could not understand the proceedings or express themselves. This is a basic denial of human rights. As such, I commend the amendment.
I thank Senator Clifford-Lee who is knowledgeable about this. It is very important to make an amendment relating to legal proceedings. It arises out of real world consequences for members of the deaf community. In a particular case, a deaf person's co-accused was instructed by the court to interpret for, and therefore give evidence on behalf of, that deaf co-accused person. It would not happen in any other legal circumstances and it was bizarre. It goes back to the lack of understanding of what it is like to live in the deaf community and the consequences of that. It is therefore important to enshrine in legislation a duty on the courts, on top of the other duties the legislation places on public bodies and the Department of Education and Skills, so that a member of the deaf community will have the right in legal proceedings to an accredited interpreter to represent what he or she is saying. It should not be left up to people who just happen to have some basic knowledge of sign language in circumstances where someone's fundamental rights and liberty are in issue.
Senators Daly and Clifford-Lee make very important points. Recent court cases have demonstrated the practical consequences on people's lives. I feel very strongly about the provisions on legal proceedings. Senator Daly referred to a lack of understanding. We need huge cultural and attitudinal change in the broader society. I have seen some of the research carried out by the National Disability Authority and I am not happy about it. We have a long way to go to change attitudes and this amendment is a practical step in that direction for many in the deaf community.
I am delighted to have achieved agreement on how this section should be amended. Mr. Andrew Geary and officials in the Department of Education and Skills have put a great deal of work into this. This amendment takes a practical approach to meeting the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children within the education system, including supports in classrooms. Interpretation centres and other supports will be captured by the amendment as well. The training of teachers, standards and qualifications are addressed by the amendment.
Speaking as a former teacher, I support this amendment. Historically, we have not achieved high standards for deaf children in schools. In this context, early education is important, especially at preschool and primary school levels where we need to give children a lift early in life. If the amendment is accepted, it will provide a great educational support for deaf children and their families. It is an important amendment and I am delighted that officials from the Department of Education and Skills put a great deal of work into it.
This is an important element of the Bill. I thank Mr. Geary and the Irish Deaf Society, including Dr. John Bosco Conama, Mr. Eddie Redmond and others, for their assistance on this. It is difficult to capture and right all of the wrongs that members of the deaf community and their families experience while trying to get into the education system. Mr. Geary has twins, one of whom is hearing and one of whom is deaf. He had to fight to get an interpreter for his son. We are introducing this legislation to ensure that no other family has to fight the battle that he had to go through to get civil rights for his son.
We ask that the Minister of State accept a further provision included in the Bill, namely, a review mechanism. Other jurisdictions that have introduced legislation recognising sign language have also placed educational requirements on the State, but those jurisdictions have not always been successful. The most successful version is probably the Finnish legislation, but it has so many other Acts underpinning it that it was difficult for us to get it into this Bill. A review of our legislation every five years would show whether it is working, particularly for children, which is the most important requirement if they are to be able to achieve their full potential.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials. I am hopeful that this provision will do what we hope it will do in terms of access to education. That will require the necessary funding that the Minister of State has outlined, but it is important that we enshrine in law access to education not only for children but for their parents and siblings who are of the hearing community in order that they can know what is going on in their lives, communicate with them and ensure that they have equal opportunities.
I endorse the importance of this amendment in terms of giving children educational opportunities in a mainstream setting. I remember a cousin of mine. He was the youngest of eight children. Uniquely in his family, he was sent away from his farm in Macroom to Cork city. He suffered all of his life with a sense of detachment from his family. That was in no way needed. He had a hearing impairment that did not need such an approach, but because of a lack of supports and imagination, there were long-term repercussions for him in his sense of family and self.
Moving to another Cork connection, Mr. Geary is to be commended on his focus on this issue. Like the Minister of State's policies, this will include people and ensure that they can participate fully and be educated without being sundered from their families in such a terrible way. I remember my cousin from my childhood clearly. There is no need for it. Amendment No. 13 is important in terms of the proper inclusion of a person who is deaf in his or her rightful education, so I support it wholeheartedly.
I take everyone's points, especially as they relate to education for deaf children. People who are now in their 50s and 60s tell of being sent off to Dublin from Kerry, Galway, Cork or somewhere else as very young kids. That was the thinking at the time. It shows that we need to change the thinking, so I welcome this amendment.
Government amendment No. 14 is also in the names of Senators Daly and Clifford-Lee.
I note that Senator Mark Daly had proposed to replace section 7, which specifies the number of hours of interpretation that the State is to provide for users of ISL for social, cultural and other purposes, including GP visits, with a simpler section that provides for funding for such purposes. This annual quantum of hours for the provision of services will be in addition to the provision of ISL when availing of statutory services. The objective is to tackle the social isolation that the deaf community experiences. I am fully supportive of this objective, but I note that the amendment has been ruled out of order.
I am delighted to confirm that the funding will be provided as discussed with the deaf community in recent weeks. I thank the Sign Language Interpreting Service, SLIS, for its response to my request for a funding submission for this purpose. We agree that funding for this worthwhile purpose should be provided, with the details to be finalised and announced shortly. I understand that we will discuss amendment No. 17 in the Dáil.
I am sorry, but this is amendment No. 14.
I thank the Minister of State. This amendment would delete the section detailing a very specific number of hours for sign language interpreting services in education. This matter is addressed in the section on the education system that we have just discussed. The issue of access to the service for cultural and social purposes, in which regard there would be a voucher system, will be discussed under amendment No. 17, to which the Minister of State referred and which will be ruled out of order. However, we hope to move it on Committee Stage in the Dáil and get agreement so that we can put on a legislative footing a system whereby the Government would each year have to consider providing a fund in order that members of the deaf community could, for example, attend job interviews and cultural events. Without it, they would be unaware of what was happening because neither they nor the organisations putting on the events could afford interpreters or might not even know that deaf people would be attending. Like what happened yesterday in a different way, organisations are not aware that interpreters are required.
Therefore, while agreeing to the deletion of lines 6 to 24 in regard to the Irish Sign Language interpreters, we hope the Minister of State will be able to get his colleagues to support the point that access of Irish Sign Language users to social, cultural and other activities, while being ruled out here, will be agreed to in the Dáil on Committee Stage. This is very important. The purpose of what we are trying to achieve in amendment No. 17, which is ruled out of order, is to ensure access for members of the deaf community who are going to other events. It is not just about access to the State; it is about access to society and to life outside of access to the State, which would form a very limited amount of their access but which is very important nonetheless. While we agree to the amendment, we hope the Minister of State will be able to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to put it on a legislative footing. It does not specify an amount but, each year, at least it would have to be revisited at budget time to see if the fund is enough to meet the demand.
Recommittal is necessary in respect of Government amendment No. 15 as it creates a cost on the public revenue. Amendments Nos. 15, 19, 21 to 39, inclusive, and 46 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendment No. 15 is on the duty of public bodies and amendments Nos. 19, 21 to 39, inclusive, and 46 will be taken with it. This is one of the key sections of the Bill. We are creating an obligation on public bodies to provide free services to Irish Sign Language, ISL, users when users are accessing public services and entitlements. This is a very important part. Given the real constraints we face in regard to the availability of qualified people and the cost of providing interpreters who may have to travel at short notice, the Government amendment proposes that the provision of a remote web-based service shall be sufficient to meet the duty of public bodies under this section. The Sign Language Interpreting Service, SLIS, provides a remote service which works well and is funded via the Citizens Information Board.
I note Senator Mark Daly seeks to change this provision so that the consent of a user will be required if the service is not to be provided face to face. From our discussions with the deaf community, we know that a remote service may not be suitable in all cases so I am open - I say this very strongly - to considering this suggestion of requiring the user's consent.
I might also mention that in response to concerns raised by the deaf community, the commitments in regard to ISL in the national disability inclusion strategy have been strengthened, and this is something I myself am driving. The new national disability inclusion strategy was published on 14 July. We are meeting regularly and pushing many of these issues. I have already asked every single member of the Cabinet to push the disability issue right across their Departments and they are coming back to me again on 8 December. I wanted to let Members know that work is going on in the background.
In addition to actions providing for the extension of the ISL remote service to evenings and weekends, and supporting this legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide ISL users with free services when accessing or availing of the statutory services, there is a new action which ensures that the sign language service 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 and ongoing professional training and development will be provided for these interpreters. As already announced, I have secured funding for the above actions. The details of the funding to be provided in 2018, year one, will be worked out in dialogue with the SLIS, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Citizens Information Board. This will ensure we have sufficient and sufficiently competent people available in order that the public bodies can meet their obligations and that the ISL user and the public body can both be confident that the interpreting service is of high quality. As mentioned, we are aware of situations where this was a disaster. Acceptance of this amendment has been agreed on the basis that we do not need the provision in regard to the establishment of a new public body, as I have mentioned. I commend the amendment to the House.
I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 15:
To delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:
“(4) Provision of or availing of a remote, web-based service shall, if the Irish Sign Language user consents, be sufficient to meet the obligations of a public body under this section.”.
Moving an amendment to an amendment sounds a little like poetry or pedantry but I can only describe this amendment as legislative poetry. Earlier in the debate on the Bill there was huge discussion and argument on the difference between "required" and "reasonable". The original amendment had been that "A public body shall do all that is required". The argument which was made by the writers of the poetry opposite me was that, in fact, because of the lack of capacity in terms of the number of sign language interpreters available to the State at present, we cannot put a burden on the State that we know is not reasonable, and we can only do what is reasonable. It was suggested that, because of this legislation, there will be opportunities for sign language interpreters into the future but we must do all that is reasonable, and that is the balance of legislation. Again, part of the poetry of the writing of this legislation was the issue of the very generous suggestion and proposal from the Minister of State's officials in regard to the headline. The original headline in our proposal was "Principles to guide public bodies", whereas the officials suggested the wording "Duty of public bodies", which is far more important and forceful, and puts a greater onus on public bodies to ensure they do what they are required to do under the legislation.
We are proposing an amendment to the amendment, which is rare enough, but when we are writing this kind of poetry, we might as well use every rule in the book. While we would all assume that, due to technology, one could have a sign language interpreter with an iPhone who could hear the conversation, there are, of course, situations where there is more than one person in the room discussing, say, a medical issue with a member of the deaf community who does not want another family member there. For example, there might be more than one consultant and there might be a team of doctors in the room, and the same could apply in a legal situation where a person is getting advice or there is questioning from gardaí. Where there is more than one member of the deaf community and one other person, using web-based interpreting is not appropriate or practical. Again, this proposal arose due to the discussions with the deaf community over the summer, including face-to-face meetings. These discussions in themselves proved the point, in that if we were trying to have those discussions with web-based interpreting, it would have been impossible.
I hope the Minister of State will agree to the amendment to the amendment. We are delighted to support the proposal on the duty of public bodies. The amendment we ask the Minister of State to support states: “Provision of or availing of a remote, web-based service shall, if the Irish Sign Language user consents, be sufficient to meet the obligations of a public body under this section.” It is with the consent of the sign language user that the web-based service would be provided, and this could be done in many circumstances. However, in those circumstances where it is not practical and would not give the right outcome, we need to ensure the permission of the member of the deaf community is given.
I second the amendment to the amendment.
Sinn Féin supports the amendment to the amendment, which provides that "provision of or availing of a remote, web-based service shall, if the Irish Sign Language user consents, be sufficient to meet the obligations of a public body under this section." This means that the user will be in control of the decision as to whether the service is sufficient. As we see so often, the individual in question, in this case the member of the deaf community, is best positioned to determine whether a service provided is adequate.
When legislation such as the Bill proposed by Senator Mark Daly is before the House, I examine its strengths. As I stated at the beginning of this process, I have an open mind and am open to persuasion. Having listened to the comments of Senators Warfield and Mark Daly, I am fully persuaded of the merits of this amendment and I propose to accept it.
Amendment No. 17 is out of order.
Amendments Nos. 18, 20, 44 and 45 are related and may be discussed together.
I am pleased that we have been able to reach agreement on the amendment to this section. As we have seen in recent days, television broadcasting services are a vital aspect of life in terms of access to information, recreation and education. It is especially important to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Ensuring access to television services for people with disabilities contributes to a more equitable and inclusive society by promoting and facilitating social integration, inclusion, cohesion and, above all, participation.
The new statutory provision in section 10 of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill further supports and enhances the principles and aspirations underpinning the development of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's access rules provided under section 43 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The rules are designed to promote the understanding and enjoyment of programmes by persons who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, persons who are blind or partially sighted or those who have a hearing impairment or are partially sighted. The amendment recognises and ensures that the principles of equality, dignity and respect underpinning the access rules remain constant. I commend it to the House.
The amendment underpins the Broadcasting Act and the activities of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. A substantial mechanism is available to members of the deaf community for engaging on broadcasting. The process is technical and requires reporting of issues relating to interpreters and subtitling and there is always an argument as to whether targets in these areas are being met. Senator Clifford-Lee and I have agreed to delete the substantial section on broadcasting in light of the amendment proposed by the Minister of State and to allow for further engagement.
With regard to the television coverage of yesterday's events, members of the deaf community tweeted and sent text messages before 12 noon yesterday pointing out that they could not understand what was taking place. Clearly, they could not listen to radio reports but the television broadcasts did not feature subtitling or an interpreter. The use of Twitter by the President of the United States shows the power of this medium and communication in general. As a result of the contacts made with Met Éireann, RTE and TV3, interpreters featured on their broadcasts by yesterday evening. This would not have occurred in previous times because the deaf community is extremely marginalised and its members would not have been able to contact these organisations quickly through tweets, texts and emails. The issue that yesterday would not have been resolved in the past. It should be highlighted through the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland that in circumstances such as yesterday's weather event, the use of sign language interpreters should be standard operating procedure for television broadcasts.
I endorse the comments of Senator Mark Daly. Television broadcasting services are a vital aspect of modern life. It is wrong that thousands of people would not be directly involved. It is important to note that action was taken when this issue was highlighted. However, I accept the point that it should not have to reach that stage. I reiterate that we are discussing equality, dignity and respect, which are the focus of the amendments. Above all we are dealing with the issue of inclusion.
Amendment Nos. 40 and 41 are related and will be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Amendment No. 40 proposes to delete section 30, whereas Senator Mark Daly's amendment proposes to retain and amend it to specify issues in respect of education which should be reported on in the reviews and to provide that each subsequent review should take place at five-year intervals. I will not oppose this amendment in the interest of agreeing a Bill by consensus. I am happy to listen to the views of Senators.
I thank the Minister of State, his officials and all Members for the debate on this issue. I hope they will support the amendment in my name. This goes back to the issue of education and to the review of the Act to ensure that it is operating correctly. It will ensure that there will be a requirement on the State, long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil, to produce reports on the workings of the provisions of the Bill, which will include input from members of the deaf community, users, representative organisations, families of the users, Members of this House and members of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. Five years seems like a long interval between reviews, but there is nothing to stop the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality producing a report every year or to prevent anybody bringing up issues in this regard in the House or individually. It will be a total review of the legislation.
We have found that the issue of access to education for children has been very difficult to resolve in other jurisdictions. Before I had even made my first attempt to produce a Bill on this issue in 2013, Scotland had passed legislation of this nature. Even that jurisdiction is not happy with the education section of its Act. New Zealand has also had this difficulty and did not include a provision for access to education in its equivalent legislation. It is now going through the enormous process of trying to rectify that omission in legislation.
It has taken a colossal effort on the part of many people to get this legislation this far. The idea of even having to amend it at some future date would be enormously daunting. This amendment will not stop provisions being changed by policy decisions, budgetary allocations or ministerial decision. That could only happen, however, if there is an onus on the Government to review this legislation every five years. That would mean that the deaf community could list the parts of the legislation, or the parts of policy falling outside the legislation, which they feel are not working. That report or review could then be debated in this House and there would be an onus on the Government to then implement the recommendations or requirements. If that has not been done five years later, the recommendations will have formed a benchmark against which to measure implementation.
This is not a perfect system but we have to live in the world of what is doable. What matters is what works. This works. As I said, it is not what we started out with and hoped to achieve, which was to require a review every three years, but it is something that should be done with legislation because it allows for review and allows people to look at provisions which may not be working as intended. I hope the Minister of State will be able to support our requirement for a review of the operation of the legislation.
Senators Conway-Walsh, Kelleher, Boyhan and Warfield wish to speak.
I will be very brief. I have not spoken on this Bill before.
I will not be limiting the Senator's time in any way.
I understand that others wish to speak but I want to take the opportunity to express the importance of this provision regarding the review. Reviews are not something of which we should be afraid. We should embrace provisions of this nature in all legislation. What point is there in enacting legislation if it does not work practically for the people it exists to serve? I certainly support the amendment. I commend my colleagues on the Fianna Fáil benches on all of the work which has been done in respect of this Bill. I also commend others who have had input. I thank the Minister of State for his flexible and open approach to getting this Bill right. I am sure that, in the main, it will work out right on the ground. I also thank him for putting the resources relating to it in place. Time will tell if they are sufficient to make it work in the way in which it needs to work. I commend everybody involved and I look forward to seeing this legislation enacted as soon as possible.
I also wish to commend and support this Bill and to argue in its favour before the Minister of State. He said that he is open to argument on the checks and balances provided by reviewing this legislation within a five-year timeframe. Access to education is of particular concern. It is one thing to get past the school gate, but will the teacher be capable of communicating and transmitting information? Education is critical in and of itself, but it is also critical to a person's life chances down the line.
We know that there is a high rate of poverty among those in the deaf community. If we are able to break the education barrier, we should be able to help to break the employment barrier. I very much support the Bill. It seems obvious but I also support the provision that the people from the deaf community would be the first port of call when reviewing whether the law is working. I am strongly in favour of this system of checks and balances and how it is constructed. I am pleased that the Minister of State is open to taking it on board.
I note what the Minister of State and Senator Mark Daly have said. It is really important that there will be a review because that is critical. Senator Daly spoke about starting off in 2013, but as I was coming up the stairs today, I was thinking of the heated debates and the tensions earlier this year. Time has moved on. I was at one of the meetings in the Department with the Minister of State. There was a big delegation led by Senator Daly. It may have been one of the biggest delegations ever to Hawkins House. It was quite tense at the beginning, but come the end of the day and as weeks moved on, people compromised. Politics is about pragmatism, compromise and delivery. Forget about the deadlines and the timeframes if we can deliver. I acknowledge the enormous and amazing work of Senator Daly, his background team and staff and those who were involved in the sign language matter. He has championed this cause and has stuck with it and at it. This will be remarkable legislation. It will be the first Private Member's legislation, beginning to end, that will be completed in here. It is also important to acknowledge that in this Seanad term.
I salute those in the Gallery who have also stuck with the cause. It is not always easy when we have to scale back and pull back but this is a positive start. I felt that in recent weeks. I also acknowledge the work of Senator Clifford-Lee. Both Senators have done a lot of work on these amendments and they have stuck with it.
It is important that there is a review and that all stakeholders and users of the service are involved and engaged fully in the process. At the end of the day, this is about equality, access to employment opportunities and information, and communication and real engagement in their lives with other people. Information is power and all that comes with it. This is really important legislation and I acknowledge the work and input that the people put into it. I am happy to support the Bill.
I encourage the Minister of State to take on board this amendment. I proposed legislation to amend the Gender Recognition Act. Thankfully, a review of the Act's operation after two years was provided for in the legislation. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, will commence the review and I hope that it will be informed by the legislation in this House. I hope that, in years to come, these reviews will be informed by amendments which were perhaps rejected by Government. I encourage the Minister of State to take on board this amendment.
We are speaking about a five-year review but the clock does not start ticking until the Bill is enacted. In that regard, having moved it on in this House this evening, I hope that we will all give it our best efforts to ensure it comes before the Dáil at an early stage.
I hope that the five-year review will not be the sole mechanism for reviewing the legislation. The Minister of State has mentioned the national disability inclusion strategy on a number of occasions today and some of its key elements relate to this legislation. The ratification of the UN convention, which the Minister of State and I most love to discuss, is due fairly soon. This concerns many of the issues discussed here today, for example, equality and non-discrimination. The convention provides that "States Parties recognize that all persons are equal before and under the law and are entitled without any discrimination to ... equal protection". On children it provides that "States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity".
Article 9 relates to accessibility to information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services. Article 12 provides for equal recognition before the law. This matter was raised by Senator Clifford-Lee and others. The article provides: "States Parties reaffirm that persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law." On independent living, the convention states that party states will ensure that "[c]ommunity services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis".
That is a bit of a list but it is still only a short one. We have agreed to these things and getting on with them as speedily as possible gives further support to ensuring that what is agreed here and, it is hoped, will be agreed in the Dáil can come to pass as soon as possible.
I commend the Bill and acknowledge the people from the deaf community in the Gallery. I wish to speak to amendment No. 41. In essence, such a review mechanism every three to five years is provided for in most legislation. The first review would be three years after the legislation is enacted and then every five years thereafter. I have no doubt that there will be a kind of a formal informal protocol where people can advise as to how the legislation is working in real time. Therefore, when the three-year review is carried out, we will have debugged, for want of a better term, many of the initial issues that may have arisen in the first three years. It is a practical measure. Therefore, when the legislation is reviewed three years after its enactment, a review would have already been carried out and there would be a consensus around the terms of the review, its terms of reference and the outcome of the review. I hope that this will be done in real time over a three-year period. Then there will be the formal mechanism, which is good to have in any legislation. I wish the legislation good passage.
I thank all our colleagues for their comments. Education is an important part of Irish life and an important issue for me about which I speak regularly. This legislation is about funding and resources for members of the deaf community and we have been negotiating funding over recent months. Having the funding for the services is key. I would be interested to hear a little more about the New Zealand experience and the difficulties encountered there.
On the key issue of accountability, there must be accountability in our education services. As well as having the review of the Act, I would also like to see a regular and constant review of education services at primary, secondary and third level. As part of such a review, the Department of Education Skills would investigate what is happening in terms of providing services for members of the deaf community. Let me emphasise that, due to the lack of services in the past, on top of this being a rights issue, we are also missing out on a huge pool of talent for Irish society.
I constantly meet that resource and am very conscious of it. Recently, when I helped launch the Irish Sign Language Awareness Week in the Mansion House, I was disappointed by the low turnout among the broader society, particularly our national media. Members of the Irish Deaf Society were there. It was the Monday after the Dublin match. Still, the launch was at 11 a.m., at which stage people would have been out of bed, and I was disappointed in the broader society and by the lack of interest from most of the media on the day. The issue was highlighted for a week, and it is only colleagues such as those in this Chamber who regularly talk about it or bring legislation concerning the issue before the Houses.
I am happy not to oppose amendment No. 41. I have listened to Senators' points about the review and I am very interested in consensus on this legislation, so I will not oppose that amendment.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 17, to delete lines 21 to 31 and substitute the following:
“Review of the operation of the Act
30. (1) The Minister shall, 3 years after the date on which this act is enacted and every 5 years thereafter require a report to be prepared on—
(a) the operation of this Act,
(b) without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, a report under this section shall include an assessment of:
(i) whether any amendments to the scope and contents of this Act are necessary or desirable;
(ii) whether additional provisions need to be made in relation to supports for a child within the school system whose primary language is Irish Sign Language;
(iii) the qualifications for the minimum level of Irish Sign Language competency for persons who are teaching a child whose primary language is Irish Sign Language.
(2) The Minister shall ensure that persons or organisations that are representative of the interests of the members of the deaf community are consulted on the matters to be considered in a report prepared under this section.
(3) The Minister shall cause a copy of a report prepared under this section to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.
I second the amendment.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 17, after line 31, to insert the following:
“Short title and commencement
30. (1) This Act may be cited as the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Act 2017.
(2) This Act shall come into operation on such day or days not later than 3 years after the passing of this Act as, by order or orders made by the Minister under this section, may be fixed therefor either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision, and different days may be so fixed for different purposes and different provisions.”.
I second the amendment.
We have already discussed it.
May I address it?
It has already been discussed with amendment No. 2.
I thank everyone here. I especially thank and commend my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, on having done fantastic work over recent months and on having fought on the issue for a number of years. I also thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for the outstanding work she did with Senator Daly on this. I thank all Senators here, my Independent colleagues and members of the Government, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Did I leave anyone out? No. It is a very important day for members of the deaf community. I thank the deaf community for its resilience, vision and courage and for sticking with it. I know we have had many differences in the past, but I was trying to get the legislation through the system. There were many occasions when I understood exactly where they were coming from, and we acknowledge their magnificent work, particularly when they worked very closely with Senator Daly and his staff. I commend Senator Daly's backroom staff and team, who did fantastic work. Back to my side of the House, I commend, thank and pay tribute to Deaglán Ó Briain here and my disabilities adviser, Gerry Maguire, who has put in the hours and the work over recent months.
These are very important issues and this legislation is hugely important. Many Senators talked about it earlier. For me, it was always a civil rights issue and an equality issue and was always about the rights of the deaf community. At the same time, I emphasise that the important thing is that when we pass legislation dealing with the issue of rights and equality, we must ensure that resources or funding are put in place as well. This is very much an important part of the reason we have got through the process over recent months. Again, I thank Mr. Ó Briain, Mr. Maguire and the various Departments that worked together very closely, namely, the Departments of Education and Skills, Health, Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and Justice and Equality, because they were very much on our side. Despite some difficulties along the way and some lively debates, it is important that this day has come. Again, I thank everyone directly involved in the whole process.
I thank the Minister of State. As he said, this is a civil rights Bill. It ensures that the citizens of this State who suffer from the most extreme marginalisation, as described by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, have rights enshrined in law. Members of the deaf community on this island are unable to access the most basic of services. Citizens are excluded from participating in civil and economic society and activity because they are deaf. When we pass this Bill, we will have enshrined in law the meaning of the 1916 Proclamation when it refers to "cherishing all of the children of the nation equally" and states that the Republic would guarantee religious and civil liberties, equal rights and equal opportunities and declare the resolve to pursue the happiness of all citizens.
I thank the members of the Irish Deaf Society, including Eddie Redmond, Lianne Quigley and John Bosco Conama, and all those members of the deaf community who had input into this Bill. I thank the members of the Civil Engagement group and the other Independents. I will name them because they are here. Senator Boyhan went to the meeting referred to earlier, which, by the way, was six hours long. I thank Senators Gerard Craughwell, Joan Freeman, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill and Billy Lawless. I thank the Sinn Féin grouping led by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, who also sent a representation to that six-hour meeting, which was the longest meeting but not the only meeting. As I said, I thank the Civil Engagement group: Senators Frances Black, John Dolan, Alice-Mary Higgins, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane and Colette Kelleher. I thank Senator David Norris, who spoke earlier, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, my own group, including Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, who has supported the Bill, and all those who have participated in it.
I compliment, in particular, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who, as chair of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, ensured that pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill was done in a day, brought in the members of the committee and did a report that highlighted the extreme marginalisation faced by the deaf community that allowed the Bill to come to the Seanad so quickly. I thank Deputy Jack Chambers, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, our justice spokesperson, who was on that committee and ensured that the process happened quickly, and Deputy Micheál Martin, who met the members of the Cork Deaf Club, who highlighted the extreme marginalisation they face.
I thank the many public servants who were involved in this legislation. There are too many Departments and public servants to name, but I will name two. The Minister of State has already spoken about Deaglán Ó Briain. He is an extraordinary public servant. He is not just a civil servant; he is a public servant because he puts in long hours. He put in every one of those six hours at that meeting in Hawkins House. It was a long day which was not over until after 9 p.m. He went through the Bill section by section and gave of his vast experience and expertise. He improved the Bill and gave great advice. Gerry Maguire, a most extraordinary individual, is in the Gallery. Mr. Maguire was supposed to be on the Gerry Ryan show for ten minutes and ended up being on it for an hour telling his story. He has written a book called Walk Away & Forget Him. It is an extraordinary story. It is the story of this Bill. It is about people who suffered from extreme marginalisation and people who were left abandoned by the system. We always need champions. Gerry is a champion of this Bill and his mother was his champion. I thank Gerry for his great work on this Bill. His book describes the challenges he faces and the triumph over adversity, the battle for integration and the fight for independence, as well as fighting all the other demons that we all face. He will be signing copies afterwards.
I thank the Minister of State for his support for the Bill. It shows in a very bizarre way that new politics works. It works slowly, tortuously so. We had that big battle here on that day because that is the way old politics would have worked. The Bill would have died on that day but new politics requires a lot more engagement.
The Minister of State spoke about my staff. I, too, have someone like Gerry Maguire who works tireless hours. We do not have a big staff, myself and my parliamentary assistant, Grace Coyle, because we are the staff. She is my boss and the chief of operations. She was in charge of all the legislation, countless amendments and drafting and keeping people informed. She has been working on this Bill since 2013, which is a long time. We have been involved in some big issues such as flags for schools, which we organised with the Department last year. She organised the event in Croke Park where 6,000 children showed up from 723 schools and were presented with a flag that flew from the building where the first tricolour was flown. I was too busy getting re-elected so she was doing everything else, including getting me re-elected. We drafted the report together on uniting Ireland, which was the first report of its kind in the history of the State. That started on 1 January at 6.30. She was also involved in getting a replica of the 1916 Proclamation put inside the Washington Monument which, I suppose, enshrines what we are trying to do here today.
It takes a team of formidable people to make history and to get this legislation passed. If and when it goes through the Dáil and is signed by the President, Senator Alice-Mary Higgins's father, hopefully before the end of the year, it will only be the 27th Private Member's Bill in the history of the State to achieve this. That tells a story in itself. It is an important Bill because, as the Minister of State said, it is a civil rights Bill for the most marginalised people in society. I thank all Members for their assistance and support.
It is a very proud day for the deaf community and particularly for Senator Mark Daly. He has stuck with it since 2013 and it is now 2017. That is a remarkable achievement. It does not surprise me. It is his style. He is known for his focus on specific topics. He is persistent. He referred to Grace Coyle. I think I met her more often than I met Senator Daly to work on this issue. She co-ordinated it and always stood with it and believed that she, Senator Daly and their team would get it over the line. They are a formidable and successful team, as today demonstrates. It is really important that the deaf community has a champion in Senator Daly. They were right to believe he could see it through to the end. He used every mechanism and tool in the book to put the pressure on. He was right to do so. That is the art and skill of politics. Ultimately, there needs to be compromise.
I want to acknowledge the Minister of State. I remember the first day I came across all of this and the tensions that were there. We have moved on and I thank the Minister of State and his team. There is no question about their commitment. He is right to point out the issues of funding and resources. That aspect will become an issue. All we can hope for is that the Bill will go through the Houses as quickly as possible and will be proactively pushed at every level so that there is no delay. It is critically important. It is about equality and access to so many aspects of personal and professional life and everything that goes with communication. I acknowledge the enormous work and goodwill of the Minister of State and of everyone on all sides who took part in this debate. It is a really positive step in respect of new politics. I salute Senators Clifford-Lee and Mark Daly for the level of input they had into the amendments. That made for the smooth transition of today's work. I thank them and I thank the deaf community.
I thank both the Minister of State and the team in the Irish Deaf Society. One thing that is clear is that the Bill will pass because of teamwork from the Irish Deaf Society and all the Senators. I congratulate all. It is a good news day for the Irish Deaf Society. I know from my communication with my own colleagues in Limerick, who were very vocal in putting forward their views, that it was down to everyone working together. That is something we need to look for in the future when delivering Bills of this importance. I wish the Bill safe passage through the Dáil.
I also thank the Irish deaf community and Senator Mark Daly for their input into this Bill. My contribution has been minimal. It has really been Senator Daly's baby and he has seen it through since 2013. He made reference to his boss, Grace Coyle, and we all acknowledge the work she put into it as well. I hope this Bill will help members of the deaf community with integration. Reference was made earlier to the levels of poverty faced by the deaf community and I hope this will be a step forward for them to ensure independence, autonomy and better outcomes for the community as a whole. I welcome the members of the deaf community who are here in the Gallery. It is a big day for them and I particularly welcome Scoil Chaitríona led by principal Marianne Brady, who is an old school friend of mine from Waterford. She is doing great work up in Scoil Chaitríona in Renmore in Galway. The Minister of State will be familiar with that school.
For those Senators who were involved in the practice of old politics, it might take a while to getting around to knowing how to practice the new politics. Some of us were never polluted with the old politics.
There are two wonderful things about this evening's debate. First is the actual debate and the conclusion to it. Second is this last piece, which is not focused on the legislation but rather is about recognising others and the contributions they have made.
It is a colour piece about people who have been involved in the process. I will not mention any of those in the Gallery or among Members whose names have already been well acknowledged, but it is important to bring this back to the part people have played with some bit of colour on their lives and backgrounds.
The issue of sign language interpretation arose yesterday and I wish to make a subtle point about it. There was no unwillingness on the part of anybody on the State side, in RTÉ or among those involved in the planning for Ireland's response, when the lack of sign language interpretation was raised as an issue with them. Rather, it was a case of "We never thought of that". I have been informed that as we have been dealing with the Bill this evening, many people from the Irish Sign Language community have been expressing their upset and anger that the Oireachtas is not broadcasting the debate with live interpretation on the Internet or television. I will just leave it at that. While there would be no huge difficulty with getting that to happen, it is the thoughtlessness that screws up people's daily lives again and again. It is not that one will get a row from anybody as to why they cannot do this or that; it is simply that it was just not thought about. The legislation, the UN convention and the strategy being implemented are about putting smacht on all of us involved in public services to ensure we think and think again. The failure to think about simple and practical things is an injury to people who are already well outside the Pale in terms of any easy participation in life.
We have seen the same issue in public transport, as the Minister of State knows. Even where there are accessible bus services and even when there is one or two days' notice, the system does not seem to be able to provide an appropriate bus. It is the same torrid issue of simply being forgotten. While I am labouring the point, it is an important one. We often can do things, but fail. We should be very clear that the compromise we are lauding here today is a price people who are deaf pay every single day. Every day, they accept that while it is great that there are certain things they can now do, they must also accept that it is less than what they should have. That is something we must keep in mind. We talk about this from the perspective of what the State can afford and "reasonable cost" for the private provider, but we should flip that and ask about the unreasonable cost and compromise people must still make in their daily lives. We must continually remind ourselves of that aspect. Nevertheless, this remains a joyous occasion because we have moved to another stage. Hopefully, the legislation will get through the other House sooner rather than later and be implemented. In our happiness that we have concluded this well, we must remain conscious that it is not the end point and that there is a still a stretch to go.
I am very happy to see the Bill on Final Stage and I support its passing 100%. I commend Senator Mark Daly strongly on his tireless work and I also commend Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee on the legislation. Senator Daly has shown a particular passion in bringing it forward and has worked tirelessly with Ms Grace Coyle, who I know very well and who is a powerhouse. I have huge respect for everyone involved. It took a huge effort to get the legislation to where it is today. I commend the willingness they have shown to get the Bill passed.
The Bill is a very important step forward on inclusion and equality for the deaf community. It is fantastic. We are judged by how we treat our fellow citizens. Everyone in Irish society should have the same opportunities and supports. The Bill is another step in that direction. I commend the members of the deaf community who pushed the issue for so long. My colleagues and I in the Civil Engagement Group in the House were happy to engage with them on the Bill and to offer our full support. The deaf community sees this as one step and its ambition is to go much further. We all offer our full support in that push for improved rights and conditions for members of the deaf community in Ireland. I thank the Minister of State and his team for being so supportive of the legislation.
I wish to be associated with the remarks on this historic moment. I acknowledge what it means for the deaf community and wider society to acknowledge formally something that needed to be righted. From dealing with the deaf community in Limerick, I know how passionately they feel about this. I commend Senators Mark Daly and Lorraine Clifford-Lee and their team on this as well as the Minister of State for supporting the Bill. The key thing now is to get it into the Dáil to be enacted and implemented as quickly as possible. This is about a set of principles becoming a set of practices.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin team, I thank all of the contributors, the community, Senators Mark Daly and Lorraine Clifford-Lee and the Minister of State. On two occasions this evening, I thought about Nelson Mandela, first, when the interpreter at his funeral was mentioned, and, second, when Senator Victor Boyhan referred to the challenges facing campaigners in our society. He set out a beautiful quote from President Obama following the death of Madiba:
When the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba.
We must continue to build a rights-based society as our response to a fractured world, including all voices that speak of Ireland and for a new Ireland.
I join colleagues in thanking everyone involved, including Senators Mark Daly and Lorraine Clifford-Lee, the members of the deaf community and those who have lobbied over the years. I thank the Members who have worked very hard on this important Bill as well as the Minister of State and his departmental officials for getting involved to make it possible to bring forward what is implementable. That concludes the Bill in the Seanad and it will now go to the Dáil in what is, hopefully, a timely manner.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.