Bill to recognise Irish Sign Language as Ireland’s third language moves closer to becoming law

Posted on October 20, 2016

Irish deaf journalist John Cradden writes:

It was a good day for the Irish Deaf community yesterday as a private members bill that would official recognise Irish Sign Language as Ireland’s third language was debated in the Seanad (Ireland’s second parliament) at its second stage and was passed unanimously. This means it is one step closer to becoming law.

This is the third time the bill was debated in the Seanad; the first was in 2013 but fell at the second stage. It’s rare that a private members bill by a member of an opposition political party (Senator Mark Daly of Fianna Fail) is be passed with cross-party support but all the senators who spoke during the debate were clearly moved by a strong grassroots campaign.

This campaign focused on encouraging members of the Irish Deaf community to get in touch with senators to urge them to support the bill the second time round, along with a huge social media campaign that ran under the hashtag #YestoISL. What also helped was that the Government indicated it would not oppose the bill but would be seeking amendments when it goes to the third committee stage, which will involve pre-legislative scrutiny.

After that, and assuming the bill is passed by the Seanad, it will then move to Ireland’s first parliament, the Dail Eireann, where it will go through the same process once again. It might be 2018 or later before ISL recognition could become a reality.

But there is a strong feeling that, at long last, Ireland’s Deaf community is finally getting its message across and that it will achieve respect and recognition for its native language and accordingly equal rights as citizens of the country.

There have been hundreds of messages of congratulations on Facebook and Twitter to the Irish Sign Language Recognition campaign, which led what senators praised as a highly organised, highly professional campaign.

Particular praise has been given to Senator Mark Daly, along with the chairman of the ISL recognition group, Dr John Bosco-Conama and the chairperson of Irish Deaf Society, Lianne Quigley, and its CEO, Eddie Redmond. There is also strong pride in the fact that this felt like a truly community-led campaign where everyone pitched in to lobby the right people.

Congratulations has also been quick to come from deaf communities and organisations overseas, including from the European Union of the Deaf.

In his speech to the Seanad to start the debate, Senator Mark Daly dedicated the bill to the memory of two deaf brothers – Daniel and William McCarthy – who died in tragic circumstances in their own home in Dublin, something that drew mainstream media attention to the lack of recognition and services in Irish Sign Language for the nearly 5,000 members of the Irish Deaf community, leaving them vulnerable to social and economic exclusion.

John Cradden is a freelance journalist based in Co Kildare, Ireland, and writes for a variety of Irish publications, including the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Sunday Times (Ireland), Sunday Business Post, as well as stuff for various other publications and websites, including a bit of sub-editing. He has just released a self-published book about getting a cochlear implant and other musings on deafness. As someone brought up in hearing family and mainstream schools, he used to be indecisive about his deaf identity, but now he’s not so sure. Personal website: Twitter@johncradden

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