Irish Deaf Society warns it may have to close without more State funding

Advocacy group says many vital services for deaf people might have to close

In 2013 the Irish Deaf Society held a protest outside Leinster House calling on the government to legally recognise Irish Sign Language. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

In 2013 the Irish Deaf Society held a protest outside Leinster House calling on the government to legally recognise Irish Sign Language. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


A warning from the Irish Deaf Society that it will have to close next month, unless the State grants €300,000 in funding, has led to tensions in Government.

The organisation has said it failed to get adequate State funding up to now and is surviving on a series of “lucky instances of bequests which have kept us on the road”. Its closure would lead to the loss of 30 full- and part-time staff and the closure of services.

The issue was raised at last week’s Cabinet meeting by Finian McGrath, the Minister of State for Disability Issues, who followed up with demands across Government as the week continued.

One source said Mr McGrath was “going ballistic”. He is requesting Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe make the required money available.

The IDS received €195,000 last year from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to cover costs from May to September, but only on the basis that it was an emergency fund and not to be repeated.

In a statement, the HSE made no commitment to further fund the IDS saying that the needs of the deaf community “extend well beyond health-service provision and the services highlighted in the proposal reach across a number of government departments, including health, justice and social protection”.

The IDS is the principal advocacy organisation for the deaf in Ireland.

If it closes, its Deaf Adult Literacy Services (DALS) will close along with its Irish Sign Language Academy (ISLA) and its advocacy service for deaf people trying to access State services.

The society is seeking to implement the Irish Sign Language Act. It was passed in 2017 making Irish Sign Language (ISL) the official language for the deaf in Ireland.

IDS chief executive John Sherwin said the society has been pursuing core funding from government for several years without success. He envisaged the €300,000 would be divided equally between advocacy services and core expense.

Annual funding

“We never had funding from a State body which would take responsibility to ensure that we would get annual funding,” he said.

He said the lack of Government funding meant the society could not afford to employ a full-time fundraiser and it was “seriously inhibited” in that regard.

Mr Sherwin said the IDS has failed in its bid to get core funding because it has been unable to find a government agency to fund it “despite the fact that we are a lynchpin organisation in the ecosystem of deaf service organisations.

“We are fulfilling Government responsibilities in terms of equality and access to the community, advocacy and education.”

Mr Sherwin added that the society receives State funding from the Department of Education through Solas and also some money from Pobal, but “it’s not enough funding to offer critical services for the deaf community”, he said.

Many of those involved in providing deaf services have warned of the consequences of the society’s closure.

Keith Adams, chief executive of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People, said the loss of the IDS would “set the deaf community back significantly at a time when Irish Sign Language has achieved statutory recognition and the work of IDS is much needed and valued by all who depend on its services”.

Deaf Sports Ireland administrator Joey Watson said he was “baffled how this situation ended up after a year when they won the campaign for Irish Sign Language recognition. I thought it would give deaf people equal rights.”