Communities Minister outlines way forward for Sign Languages

Date published: 20 February 2024


Communities Minister Gordon Lyons has outlined his plans for the development of Sign Language in Northern Ireland.

DfC Minister Gordon Lyons meets sign language groups

Speaking in the Assembly, the Minister set out proposals to increase the number of interpreters and, ultimately, bring forward a Sign Language Bill.

The Minister said:

“I am committed to ensuring that members of the Deaf community have the same rights and opportunities as those in the hearing community, and are able to access services in their own language.

“I am aware that profoundly Deaf people consider themselves as part of a cultural and linguistic minority group rather than a disability group, and view their Sign Language as their ‘language of need’.”

Sign Language users, like many other minority language users, cannot necessarily access information on government websites or printed leaflets and various types of literature unless it is translated in to their natural signed language.

The Minister pointed to the sign language interpreters at the Ministerial briefings during the Covid pandemic as a positive step. But he added more needed to be done to address the current need for more British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language interpreters.

He said:

“One of the most pressing issues to ensure accessibility, and fuller social integration for the Deaf community in Northern Ireland, is to increase supply of professionally trained and appropriately accredited interpreters.”

The Minister outlined ongoing work to provide a pathway for interpreters through enhanced training and, potentially, an academic qualification.

Addressing the legislation, the Minister said:

“My officials have been engaging with key stakeholders, which includes the Deaf community and their representatives, to develop the policy to inform the drafting of clauses for legislation.

“When I have considered these cross-cutting policy proposals in detail, I intend to seek Executive approval to introduce a Sign Language Bill to the Assembly at the earliest opportunity. I also intend to seek the resources to put in place the infrastructure necessary to deliver on the intent of the legislation.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Uniquely within the UK, Northern Ireland has two sign languages – British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL). BSL is not a visual translation of spoken English and ISL is not a visual translation of either spoken English or Irish. Sign languages are the first or preferred means of communication for people who are profoundly deaf and are used by a significant number of their families and friends. Sign Language users worldwide view themselves as part of a cultural and linguistic minority community rather than a disability group.
  2. For media enquiries please contact the Department for Communities email
  3. Follow the Department on Twitter @CommunitiesNI
  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekend and public holidays.

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