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A British/Irish Sign Language Act should be the greatest language priority – Butler

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler has said a Sign Language Act to assist the local deaf community should be the main linguistic priority in Northern Ireland.

Robbie Butler said:

“Deaf people have been cruelly hit by the collapse of the local political institutions.

“A major public consultation on a new Sign Language Framework, which included proposals to ensure people in the deaf community have the same rights, responsibilities, opportunities and quality of life as everyone else, came to an end last July. Yet following the subsequent collapse of the Assembly the issue has remained frozen in time since.

“Unfortunately however, with every passing day of stalemate at Stormont people in the deaf community continue to face daily barriers, not least in terms of accessing basic public services.

“British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) is often the primary means of communication for people who are profoundly deaf and they are also used by a significant number of their families and friends. Whilst they are accepted to be languages in their own right, they have absolutely no statutory protections.

“The Framework that went out to consultation last year was a major step in the right direction. It proposed legislation to officially recognise, promote and protect both languages as well as providing support for the parents and families of deaf children. It’s just hugely frustrating no progress has been made since – the last twelve months have been a missed opportunity to deliver real improvements for the deaf community across Northern Ireland.

“After meeting with local representatives of the British Deaf Association I am convinced that a Sign Language Act should be the main linguistic priority in Northern Ireland. It puts many of the other so-called red lines being promoted by others into perspective.”

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