Sign Language Legislation

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 3:00 pm, 7th December 2020

4. Ms Bradshaw asked the Minister for Communities for an update on the proposed legislation on sign language. (AQO 1275/17-22)

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

It is too close to Christmas, Paula.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I know. I am sorry.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Yes, I recall that. A draft framework and policy proposals for legislation on sign language were consulted on prior to the publication of 'New Decade, New Approach', which committed us all to introducing a sign language Bill. I hope to introduce a sign language Bill very soon, within this mandate. My officials are engaging with the Office of the Legislative Counsel with a view to establishing a timetable and preparing instructions.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you, and apologies. The Minister will recall from the evening that we spent in a church hall in my constituency how important the sign language Bill will be. I am sure that she will have heard from many constituents about the loneliness that they have felt during lockdown. To what degree will access read across not only to public services but to wider societal issues such as sport and community life?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member will be aware that I brought forward the framework in my last year in DCAL. That framework was widely consulted upon, and it touched on different sectors. That sign language framework will help to inform the Bill. This has been widely consulted on, and, if we have heard anything from the sector, it is that we should, "Just get on with it".

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

Will lessons be learned from what has been done in the South of Ireland and Scotland? Will the Minister commit to meeting with the sector on the implementation of the Bill?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

All other jurisdictions and legislatures have been consulted. Not only have any Bills, Acts or pieces of work that they have brought forward helped to shape the framework, they will help to shape the Bill.

Not so long ago, I met with people who are deaf or partially deaf. I made a point of meeting as many people from the sector as possible, including parents who have children who have lost their hearing or who do not have hearing. I am more than happy to meet more people in that situation, particularly given that the framework is not on a statutory footing. There is therefore a denial of rights, particularly for families. People communicate through sign language, and we definitely need legislation to enable that.