UUP says 'greatest language priority' in Northern Ireland should be sign language act
THE Ulster Unionist Party last night said the "greatest language priority" in Northern Ireland should be a sign language act.
Robbie Butler said the stalemate at Stormont had left people in the deaf community to "face daily barriers, not least in terms of accessing basic public services".
Mr Bultler, UUP assembly member for Lagan Valley, said the "main linguistic priority" in the north should be helping deaf people.
His comments come amid ongoing division between Sinn Féin and the DUP over an Irish language act for the north.
"Deaf people have been cruelly hit by the collapse of the local political institutions," said Mr Butler.
"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 the stalemate at Stormont, people in the deaf community continue to face daily barriers, not least in terms of accessing basic public services."
Mr Butler said while the British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) are "accepted to be languages in their own right... (but) they have absolutely no statutory protections".
"The framework that went out to consultation last year was a major step in the right direction," he said.
"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."