IDS calls on Government for legal recognition of Irish Sign Language

Press Release, Monday 23rd September 2013
16 Local Authorities pass motions for ISL recognition during 2012/13

The Irish Deaf Society (IDS) is calling on the Government for the legal recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL). The appeal comes during International Week of the Deaf (23rd – 30th September), an annual event that celebrates Deaf people and signed languages throughout the world.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “Equality for Deaf People”, especially timely for the Deaf community in Ireland. The IDS has been campaigning for over 30 years for the recognition of Irish Sign Language (ISL) as a major aspect of equality for Deaf people in Irish Society. Availability of services and information in ISL as guaranteed by law is the only means of ensuring Deaf people the opportunity of accessing and participating in Irish Society. The momentum for ISL recognition continues to grow, with 16 Local Authorities having passed motions over the last year calling upon the Government to legally recognise ISL as a matter of urgency. This number is set to rise over coming months with a concerted campaign underway.

Discussing the appeal, Dr. John Bosco Conama from the Irish Deaf Society said: “It was with great hope that the IDS welcomed the inclusion of a commitment to ‘examine different mechanisms to promote the recognition of Irish Sign Language’ in the Programme for Government. This has been tempered somewhat with the recent publication of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan, a document that fails to examine ISL recognition. This represents a missed opportunity and the focus that is given to improving current services is no replacement for what can be achieved through the legal recognition of ISL.

“In keeping with the theme of achieving equality for Deaf people, the IDS calls upon the Government to take urgent action in support of its commitment to the people of Ireland, and the third indigenous language of this country, ISL, the first and natural language of many Deaf people.”

The failure to recognise Irish Sign Language places the health and well-being of Deaf people at risk as they often struggle to avail of vital health and educational services. Many public and private services that are often taken for granted by others remain inaccessible to Deaf people. In spite of the frustration of dealing with a majority of service providers who are unable to communicate with Deaf people, the Irish Deaf community is a vibrant and welcoming environment for those who embrace Irish Sign Language. International Week of the Deaf is a celebration of this community, with events taking place throughout the country (see  for more information).

The week also offers the opportunity to examine how to remove barriers faced by Deaf people on a daily basis by raising awareness of how to make services and information accessible to this community, for example, by ensuring that ISL video translations are made available on websites alongside written translations, and by opening up the education system to ensure that Deaf children, who are practically denied access to the language, are better accommodated. According to research carried out by the IDS, Deaf people face higher levels of marginalisation and unemployment, with a lack of access to education and job opportunities.
In working towards ISL recognition, the IDS have been working with Senator Mark Daly, and other senators from across the political spectrum, on a draft Irish Sign Language Bill. This work provides a template that could be used by the Government as a mechanism for the recognition of ISL.

The IDS also has established a cross-community group focussing on ISL recognition, with the community united in calling for urgent action on this matter. Once more, a European Parliament resolution from 1988, presented by Irish MEP Eileen Lemass makes ISL recognition imperative towards fulfilling the government’s obligations within the European Union. Finally, in light of the on-going work in relation to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), ISL recognition is an additional step in this process, and will allow the State to meet its obligations towards its Deaf citizens.

The Irish Deaf Society is holding a protest outside Dáil Éireann calling on the Government for ISL recognition next Tuesday 24th September 2013 from 3pm to 8pm

See for more information on International Week of the Deaf.


Please note proper terminology

Acceptable terminology describing a Deaf person Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deafened
Unacceptable terminology describing a Deaf person Hearing Impaired, Deaf and Dumb, Deaf Mute, hearing loss, partially deaf, partially hearing,
Sign Language Terminology Please refer to Irish Sign Language in full (and not shortened to “sign language” or as “signed English”


For more information contact:


Spokesperson: Dr. John Bosco Conama

Irish Deaf Society: 01 860 1878 – 086 380 7033

Louise Sheerin: 01 8828001

or email: [email protected]

Irish Deaf Society:

World Federation of the Deaf: