Sign language for the deaf to be granted State recognition

Legislation initiated in the Seanad by Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly

Sign language users will soon be able to access State services in their native language. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Sign language users will soon be able to access State services in their native language. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

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The Dáil has passed legislation giving State recognition to sign language used by the deaf.

It will now be designated as a native and independent language, used as the primary means of communication by more than 50,000 members of the deaf community.

They will be able to access State services in their native language, with all public bodies required to draw up an action plan to facilitate its use.

Sign language will also be allowed within the courts.

The Bill was first introduced in the Seanad by Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, who said on Thursday it was vitally important.

He said the Oireacthas justice committee had said it was necessary to end the “extreme marginalisation’’ of the deaf community.

“I am hopeful that its provisions can be put into practice as quickly as possible to ensure that the 50,000 members of the Irish deaf community have their civil rights protected and secured,’’ Mr Daly added.

Introducing the Bill in the Dáil, Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath said consensus had been achieved in the Seanad and the Dail had little work to do before it was referred to President Michael D Higgins.

“I commend Senator Daly, Fianna Fáil and members of the deaf community for the work that was put into achieving that consensus,’’ Mr McGrath added.

He said a quality assurance and registration scheme for interpreters would be established, with ongoing professional training.

An allocation of €327,000 would be provided next year to the Citizens Information Board for that purpose, he added.

Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said it was a hugely significant day for the deaf community as the legislation would empower them by placing sign language on a statutory footing.

“It is a massive advance for their civil and human rights,’’ she added.

Ms Murphy O’Mahony said Mr Daly had introduced the legislation on three occasions in the Seanad, succeeding on the third attempt.

“I commend his persistence,’’ she added.

She also acknowledged the work of Grace Coyle who worked with Mr Daly on the Bill.

She welcomed the provision of educational supports for deaf children.

“There is no reason deaf children should not have the same educational opportunities as those of the rest of society, yet the proportion of deaf children progressing to higher education, for example, is half that of the wider community,’’ she added.

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