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Consultation on Irish Sign Language Recognition
Announced by Minister in Northern Ireland

Posted: 3rd December 2015 National Consultation on Irish Sign Language Recognition  Announced by Minister in Northern Ireland.

Ms Ni Chuilin



On December 1st, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Northern Assembly, Carál Ní Chuilín, annouced an early Christmas present for the Deaf Community in Northern Ireland. The Minister made a statement to the Assembly announcing her intention to have a public consultation in the New Year on a Framework for promoting Sign Langauge, which will include proposals for legislation and official recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL) and British Sign Langauge (BSL).

One word: Inclusion

In her statement the Minister said “it is worth reminding the House why this is such an important issue. I can summarise the many reasons in one word: inclusion. Sign Langauge is about including some of the most marginalised people in our society, and it must be a priority for all of us.”

Minister Ní Chuilín explained that while ISL and BSL were recognised as languages in their own right in 2004, there is no statutory recogntition for either language, they are not covered by the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, and there is no formal Executive agreed policy or strategy for ISL or BSL in Northern Ireland.

The Minister’s statement outlined how many sign language users are excluded from accessing important services. It noted that as spoken and/or written language may be their second or even third language, “misunderstandings can easily arise, especially when using more complex concepts or grammar, or less common words.”

Communication: a human right

“In every effort to improve Deaf people’s human rights, the removal of linguistic barriers is of paramount importance. A Deaf person must have the right to use Sign Language in any given situation. Communication, participation and access to services should not be a privilege but a basic right.”

“A Deaf person must have the right to use
Sign Language in any given situation.”


The Minister made it clear she had listened to the Deaf Community in Northern Ireland. She understood they wanted legislation to safeguard their rights as a cultural and linguistic minority, and to be able to access services in their own language. And she wanted to support their efforts.

Down South?

For many years the Irish Deaf Society, along with other deaf organisations, have been campaigning for recognition of ISL in the Republic of Ireland. Despite the efforts of some, notably Senator Mark Daly, there is no sign of ISL being officially recognised in the Republic. This is despite the fact that there is a commitment in the present Programme for Government to ‘examine different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish Sign Langauge’.

Brendan Lennon, DeafHear’s Head of Advocacy said “It is somewhat perverse that Irish Sign Language is likely to be recognised in Northern Ireland long before it is recognised in the Republic of Ireland. And as Minister Ní Chuilín made clear in her speech, until ISL is officially recognised, Deaf people will continue to be excluded and marginalised”.


Media Contacts will provide spokespersons to comment on issues relevant to Deaf and Hard of Hearing people on request.

To contact Brendan Lennon; Head of Information and Policy, click here...





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