This is certainly a day of debate on justice and equality issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is very welcome. I commend Senator Mark Daly for bringing the Bill before the House again. It is clear that he has shown great commitment to this most important cause. The Bill is primarily about equality, ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and I will lend it my full support. Recognition of Irish Sign Language by the State is something that should have occurred many years ago. Irish Sign Language is recognised in Northern Ireland but not in the Republic. The lack of recognition impacts on members of the deaf community in almost all of their interactions with the State, in education, health care provision and even the justice system, ultimately marginalising them.
This is a matter which affects almost 40,000 citizens. Irish Sign Language is used by deaf people, their families, friends and colleagues. Members of the deaf community do not have the same access to public services as other citizens. Lack of access to Irish Sign Language in education, in particular, is a source of great concern. It impacts further on the employability of members of the deaf community. As such, many members of the deaf community feel marginalised, economically and socially. This important legislation should provide improved access for members of the deaf community to education services, benefiting, in particular, the youth and, I hope, reducing their sense of marginalisation. Within the justice system, excluding criminal court proceedings, there is no automatic right of deaf people to an Irish Sign Language interpreter. This is available in Northern Ireland but not here in the Republic. As a State, we need to be able to afford this to our citizens as a basic right. Without the protections in law inscribed in this Bill, deaf people will continue to face these barriers throughout their lives. I am voting in favour of the Bill as I hope it will bring about real change and equality for the deaf community in Ireland.