31/03/2004

British and Irish Sign Languages now official

Both British and Irish Sign Languages are now officially recognised in Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State, Paul Murphy last night announced the news during a special reception at Hillsborough Castle to mark the success of the European Year of People with Disabilities.

"I am pleased to announce formal recognition for both British and Irish Sign Languages in Northern Ireland," Mr Murphy said. "This follows a statement made last year by my colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who announced similar recognition for British Sign Language in GB.

"Sign Language is the preferred means of communication of 4,500 of the 17,000 people in the Province who are severely or profoundly deaf and, of course, it is also used by a significant number of their families and friends.

"As well as helping to raise awareness of the particular requirements of deaf people, this recognition will also see the 11 Northern Ireland Government Departments joining forces to work proactively in partnership with representatives of the Deaf community to develop ideas for improving access to public services."

The Secretary of State explained that such improvements could, for example, include the provision of more tutors of sign language, better interpretation services and the installation of specialist equipment in public offices. He added: "Effective communication is an essential tool in everyday life. Whether it is through the medium of English, Irish, Ulster-Scots, the languages of our minority ethnic communities or sign language, people should always be encouraged to interact with each other.

"As we strive to build a truly inclusive society in Northern Ireland, it is therefore important to recognise the different languages which are used and to give them the respect they deserve."

(MB)

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