I welcome the citizens from the deaf community and from Bishopstown Community School. I commend Senator Mark Daly on the fantastic work he has done in the Committee on Justice and Equality on the issue of the Irish Sign Language Bill and in bringing the legislation forward. I was not aware of this so I appreciate the education I got on this issue in the committee. I was initially appalled when I realised Irish Sign Language was not officially recognised in this country, despite the fact the deaf community use it on a daily basis to communicate with their loved ones, educators, statutory agencies and advocators.
As I have said before and will say again, we are judged in this country by how we treat our fellow citizens. It is a disgrace that, in 2016, our nation does not recognise Irish Sign Language. It is imperative that we ensure that Irish Sign Language gets the full recognition it deserves and that those who use it get full and equal access to information via Irish Sign Language. No child in this country should suffer at school due to the lack of teachers qualified in Irish Sign Language. We want to build a nation of well-educated young people, regardless of the barriers that are in front of us. Every person who engages with Government bodies on a daily basis has a right to receive information in a way they understand and can use to communicate. It is rare that Irish Sign Language is made available in Government and statutory agencies. Senator Daly has brought up the issue and we should not shy away from wanting to provide this service. By doing so, we are embracing social inclusion and equality for the deaf community.
Senator John Dolan makes his apologies for not being present today because he is away in Brussels. He is working tirelessly to ensure the Government ratifies the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The right to use one's own language is an important human right. The convention mentions sign language in its five articles. We should do the right thing and ratify the convention and recognise Irish sign language officially. The European Parliament has passed two resolutions calling on member states to recognise their respective national sign languages but only five EU countries have done so - Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden and the UK. We have not been shy in implementing what Europe has asked us to do in the past, so why have we stalled on this for such a long time?
The cross-community groups of deaf-related organisations should be commended for their outstanding campaign, and we have received lovely letters in the last few weeks. We should also commend the councillors in Donegal and Limerick who voted to have Irish Sign Language recognised at a national level. As elected representatives, we have a duty to tear down the barriers and make equality of opportunity a national right by implementing this Bill. We will be on the right side of history for the deaf community in Ireland. If we get Irish Sign Language recognition, this will ensure more legal rights for Irish Sign Language users, better access to public services, better education for deaf children, better third level education and training for deaf adults and better interpreting, quality and monitoring. We have nothing to fear from this and we should embrace it.