Sound of silence in the Dáil to highlight campaign for profoundly deaf children

Minister says difficult choices but hearing implants are a priority for him

A Sinn Féin TD observed a two-minute silence in the Dáil to highlight the experience of profoundly deaf children.

Justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien maintained the silence for part of his speaking time during Sinn Féin’s private members’ debate demanding the provision of bilateral cochlear implants for deaf children to give them access to speech and everyday sounds.

Current Irish practice is to insert a single implant for each affected child, because of the high cost of €18,000 for a second implant. Best international practice is for two implants, simultaneously inserted.

Some 200 children are in need of the programme and about 90 children are identified each year with hearing problems. About €12.58 million is required initially, including €7 million in capital investment and €4 million annually.


Parents and campaigners for bilateral implants, members of the Happy New Ear group, were in the gallery for the duration of the three-hour debate.

Mr O'Brien said he tried to imagine what it would be like to be plunged into a world of silence.

'Lack of funding'
Explaining his two minutes of silence the Cork North Central TD said: "I want to try to give some explanation of what those children have to endure because of a lack of funding or a lack of political will and commitment to provide the funds which could make a huge different to people's lives."

He said afterwards that “unless there is a change in policy, a commitment given and the funding of €12.58 million provided . . . the awkward silence of those two minutes in this chamber is representative of the lifetime of silence for those children”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the 1916 Proclamation was very clear about cherishing all the children of the nation equally. It did not say "except the ones who are profoundly deaf, who have disabilities or who come from poor backgrounds".

Donegal North East TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said providing a child with one implant was the same as providing a child with glasses with only one lens. "It is wrong, cruel and unacceptable." He pointed out that children had a limited time window for implants, usually up to the age of eight, for them to be successful.

'Children need this'
Sinn Féin's health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it was not a complex issue and there were no conflicting arguments about the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants. "Children need this operation and they need it now."

Minister for Health James Reilly told the debate "there are no easy choices but this issue will be one of my top priorities. I look forward to having the opportunity of having that priority expressed in regard to the national service plan."

Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch described the implant as a "highly sophisticated device which provides access to sound for those with severe to profound hearing loss". The surgically implanted device, coupled to an external processor, "can provide access to speech and everyday sounds to aid or improve communications abilities".

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher noted the Minister for Health's announcement last week to introduce a plan for bilateral implants. The Cork North Central TD said, however, that capital funding and extra staff were necessary and the issue was urgent. He called for the programme to be included in the HSE's national plan for next year.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times