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Recognition of Irish Sign Language Bill 2016,

Dáil Second Stage

Minister of State with special responsibility for Disability Issues,

Finian McGrath TD

14 December 2017

Thank you [Chair].  Can I say at the outset that I am delighted to be here again and delighted that we have been able to achieve a consensus on this Bill in the Seanad, with very little work left for us in the Dáil to do before the Bill can be referred on to the President for signature.  I want to commend Senator Daly and members of the Deaf Community for all the work that was put into achieving that consensus.  

I particularly want to mention  Grace Coyle, Senator Daly’s Parliamentary Assistant, for her dedication and perseverance – and her endless patience – in seeing this Bill through to where we are today.

As I mentioned in the various Seanad debates, the Government’s approach to amending the Bill is to keep and strengthen the 3 key features that need to be in legislation:

  • ensure that the important recognition by the State of ISL and the statement that users have the right to use it is retained;
  • place a duty on public bodies to provide ISL interpretation at no cost to the user when access to statutory entitlements is sought by a person; and
  • provide a clear statutory right to use ISL in court proceedings.

I’d like to reiterate for the House that in response to concerns raised by the Deaf Community, the commitments relating to ISL in the National Disability Inclusion Strategy, which I launched in July last, were strengthened.

In addition to actions providing for the extension of the ISL remote interpretation service to evenings and weekends, and supporting this legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide ISL users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of their statutory services, there is a new action which ensures that the Sign Language Interpretation Service (SLIS) will be resourced to increase the number of trained Sign Language and Deaf Interpreters.

A quality-assurance and registration scheme for interpreters will be established, and there will be on-going professional training and development provided for interpreters.

I am delighted to confirm that an allocation of €327,000 in 2018 has been made available to SLIS via the Citizens Information Board for this work.

We put a lot of work into improving the Bill in the Seanad and as I said we have a very few amendments to consider here today.

There is one substantive amendment that is proposed to the Bill now following further discussions between Minister of State and Senator Daly (the Bill’s sponsor).

The Bill as published – in specific detail as to number of hours per annum – proposed that users of Irish Sign Language be provided with an annual allocation of hours interpretation for non-public sector purposes, to include GP visits, social and cultural activities.

This level of detail and prescription is not appropriate to primary legislation and this point was accepted by the Senator in the negotiations.

While the Senator agreed to deletion of this provision (section 7 of the Bill as published) in the Seanad, this was on the basis that we would consider the issue further in the Dáil.

I accept the argument that Sign Language users suffer extreme social isolation. Provision of support so that they can visit the GP, and engage in social and cultural activities etc., would be a humane and worthwhile initiative to combat this isolation and improve wellbeing and mental health. However, this cannot be regulated in terms of detailed prescription of annual numbers of hours in primary legislation as was originally proposed.

I am delighted to confirm that I have secured the agreement of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection for provision in principle of funding to Irish Sign Language Services (SLIS) in this regard. The intention for 2018 is to develop guidelines (as envisaged in amendment No. 15).

SLIS working with its funder the Citizens Information Board will be tasked with scoping out how a model for such a scheme would operate and preparing draft guidelines for consideration and approval by the Minister for Employment and Social Protection.

The intention – subject to progress of this work – is to aim to trial an approach towards the end of 2018 and to this end a sum of up to €50,000 may be made available from within existing resources to meet any pilot project costs incurred towards the end of 2018.

Following the learning from the pilot, more detailed proposals and revised guidelines will be developed which will inform future annual funding requirements, subject to the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the normal way.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has examined the text of the amendment suggested originally by Senator Daly and advises that it should be recast as per amendment No.15 .  Senator Daly and I engaged in further discussions and this amendment is now an agreed amendment.   As agreement has been reached on an approach to funding and as this is the remaining issue outstanding – and as the issue is a very real one for the Deaf Community – I am happy to present this amendment by agreement.


In conclusion, at this time of year, I think it’s appropriate to reflect on the significant amount of progress that has been made over the last 12 months in relation to disability issues.

The Taskforce on Personalised Budgets, which I launched in 2016, will report to me very shortly on a personalised budgets model which will give people with disabilities more control in accessing health funded personal social services, giving them greater independence and choice in accessing services which best meet their individual needs.

The taskforce is an important part of the process of progressing the Government’s objective to provide services and supports for people with disabilities which will enable them to have greater independence in accessing the services they choose, and improve their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives.

In April of this year, the Make Work Pay Report was launched and many its 24 recommendations are already being actively advanced by Departments.  

In some cases, the Government has gone beyond the recommendations of the Report in support of persons with disabilities.  For example, the report identified transport as being critically important for people with disabilities considering returning to work.  On foot of this recommendation, it was decided that a person in receipt of a long-term disability payment can retain their free travel pass for five years.

In Budget 2018 I secured an increase in the allocation for disability services so that this figure is now €1.763 billion. This is up from €1.688 billion in 2017. And as a result of my securing of additional funding of €92 million for disability services in 2017, this year saw the allocation of an additional €10 million for the provision of services for 1,500 young people leaving school and rehabilitative training this year, the development of alternative respite models with €1 million targeted funding, the  reconfiguration of residential services, supported by €20 million in capital funding and to be further supported by the Service Reform Fund, and quality improvements to increase compliance with National Standards for Residential Centres for Children and Adults with Disabilities. And I regard the provision this year of medical cards for nearly 10,000 children in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance to be one of the most significant and meaningful reforms that I’ve overseen since my appointment.

In July I launched the National Disability Inclusion Strategy and substantial progress has been reported on the key actions for completion in 2017. Realisation of the Inclusion Strategy is of vital importance because it provides the framework for advancing the necessary policies and service developments required to adhere to many of the Articles of the UNCRPD.  

As Chair of the Strategy’s Steering Group, my aim is to ensure that the Strategy is fully implemented and that it results in real and concrete change for the better for children and adults with disabilities.

I look forward to the debate on the Bill.