Irish Sign Language Act Signed Into Law


There were emotional scenes in Leinster House on Thursday 14th December when an Irish Sign Language (ISL) Recognition Bill was passed in the Daíl. One hundred people involved with the Deaf Community from all over Ireland were there to witness this historic event. The legislation is an important step towards equal rights for Deaf citizens of Ireland.

The ISL Bill recognises Irish Sign Language as an official language of the Irish state. It is hugely symbolic and importantly, it introduces a range of measures to improve ISL access to education, information and public services. These measures are desperately needed. As acknowledged in the Daíl, Deaf people are extremely marginalised in Ireland. Nearly 80% of Deaf adults have literacy levels of an 8-9 year old. Deaf people in general are ten times less likely to attend University than their hearing peers and they are 2-4 times more likely to be unemployed. They are also 2-3 times more likely to suffer abuse and 2-4 times more likely to experience clinically significant emotional distress. It is hoped that this new legislation will mark the beginning of a brand new chapter for Ireland’s Deaf Community.

The Irish Deaf Society (IDS) has been tirelessly campaigning for ISL Recognition for three decades. A range of organisations and individuals from around the Country, including Cork, joined the Campaign in recent years. Senator Mark Daly brought the Bill before the Seanad on two previous occasions but it was defeated both times. It was third time lucky for the tenacious and dedicated Senator Daly!

Chairperson of the Cork Deaf Association, Tom O’ Brien, was profoundly moved by the passing of this new legislation. Mr. O’ Brien is a 71 year old Deaf man who always hoped to see ISL Recognition in his lifetime. “ It was my happiest day after many sad years”, said Mr.O’ Brien. He also extends his thanks to Campaign leaders the Irish Deaf Society, Senator Mark Daly and everyone else who worked so hard to make the Bill a reality.

On 24th December 2017, the Irish Sign Language Act was signed into Law by President Michael D. Higgins.