Brendan Ogle: This week, a number of unions started distributing masks bearing the legend ‘pro-mask is pro-worker’. It seems an obvious statement. After all, it is workers – especially in low-paying sectors – who have borne the economic and health brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet there are those cynically trying to convince working people that they should oppose public health measures and breach guidelines en masse.
Mixed messaging from public authorities, and the complete mess made of the vaccination rollout by the EU and our Government, has heightened frustration at the restrictions associated with Covid-19, and this has been compounded by the unequal impact of the pandemic. While lockdowns have had a minimal financial impact on some workers, many others have lost their jobs and been forced to rely on state income supports.
Brendan Ogle: I have decided to write this article at this juncture for a number of reasons.
* Firstly, insofar as Irish workers can rely on any meaningful legislative support to protect their collective rights as workers those supports have crumbled into virtual non-existence
* Secondly, we have just had imposed upon us yet another Government that not a single person in the state voted for, with a programme for Government that fails absolutely to provide one iota of additional support for such workers, or even to acknowledge a problem
* And finally, in this neoliberal era the levels of inequality between labour and capital is now so extreme, and the resultant deprivation in a world and nation of such riches so acute, that the Trade Union movement of workers must now fundamentally change approach and take affirmative actions, or stand accused of simply existing to enable our class oppressors continue to trample on working people in the pursuit of extreme greed.
Brendan Ogle: A homeless support group has described how the body of a homeless man was discovered in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) today. This needless loss of human life on our streets is a personal tragedy for this man, and for their family and friends. It is hard to escape the dark symbolism of deaths of people without homes within the IFSC.
Brendan Ogle: There was a fascist demonstration outside the Dáil last Saturday in pursuance of building an Irish Nazi Party. Yes, in the era of Trump the virus has international tentacles which have reached here. For the first time since O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, fascists are on Irish streets.
About 200 turned up. The pretext was protesting because a gay Government Minister was photographed years ago with some English lad with questionable views on the age of sexual consent.
This is enough for the gay Minister to be called a paedophile by fascists using the decades-old trope that gay people abuse children. Funny, where this actually happened (actual child abuse) for decades in the Catholic Church, the fascists not only didn’t notice it but they applaud the Church and its extreme conservative lobby groups. They even write for them and invite them on their fascist protests and everything,
But don’t expect consistency. These are fascists, arch advocates of ‘the end justifies the means’. They wave Irish flags too, and declare themselves patriots, yet their organisers have links with loyalist paramilitaries, UKIP and the English Defence League. International fascism. A century and a decade ago, Connolly would have dealt with them. Dublin then had the forebears of this rabble, they were always among us, but there weren’t any of them in the Irish Citizen Army. No, they were the ones throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at them in 1916 and siding with the oppressor.
You can see the lines of argument though. Agree with our fascism or you aren’t a patriot. Agree with us or you support paedophilia. They’ve already used the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘anti-corruption’ tropes. It’s classic Germany of the 1920s, if any of them had ever read a book. But it appears only the ringleaders have, and they are following the supremacists’ ‘to do list’ assiduously.
Predictably, the event was full of angry men roaring and spouting hate into microphones, threatening people. In case anybody is unsure of their hateful intent, they usefully produced banners with nooses on them. A small number of people (10) turned up to counter protest, and were violently attacked. It looked like a KKK rally; all it was missing were hoods and a burning cross.
But here’s the point. They are disappointed at the numbers and I have seen them frustratingly asking “why did so many people turn up for anti-water-charges protests but not for us”?
This puts me in mind of this photo. This is the Garda Public Order Unit at an anti-water-charges march on 10 December 2014. I’m wondering why did these guys turn up for the Right2Water march, but not on Saturday?
The march back then had 70,000 attendees and ended with a five hour rally. There was no hate speech, no incitement, no fascism, no defamation, no violence. But the Government of the day was threatened, and ultimately defeated, on the issue. And because they were threatened, they sent this.
But it would appear they aren’t threatened by Saturday’s mob of hate. They are probably right. Certainly the numbers attending and the pathetic election results would suggest they are right. But it’s fascism. It’s violent and it’s inciting violence and hatred. The public deserve to be protected from such menace.
Brendan Ogle: When I joined the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now Unite) over 20 years ago the Union was affiliated to the Labour Party (this remained the case until Unite rightly disaffiliated in 2013) but had a policy in place called ‘The Third Way’. This policy was passed, produced in booklet form, and pushed both within the Union and the Labour Party.
The policy, which I agreed with, was very simple. It argued that the Labour Party should have a rule forbidding entering coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael because, if it did so, the result could only be that both of those parties would have to come together to form a Government. While negative in itself this, however, would then open up a political space on the left and Ireland would have a right/left political system rather than the old ‘my Grandad was a great Dev/Collins man’ baloney that passed for ‘politics’ in this state for far too long.
Of course the Labour Party rejected such a notion of principle and strategy, and instead decided to continue to offer itself up as a mudguard to both Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) as and when demanded by them and the conservative media consensus. This approach reached its inevitable low point with the despised FG/Labour Government from 2011-2016, when the Labour Party made an enemy of its own voter base in order to protect Fine Gael’s. It resulted in the loss of 80% of its seats along with any respect or moral authority, and the party has been borderline irrelevant ever since. As Civil War politics ends at last, the Labour Party can ponder from their small number of seats in opposition just what might have been had they recognised this day coming and brought it about much earlier.
In 2016 Noel Dempsey, former Deputy Leader of Fianna Fail and serial Minister, let the cat out of the bag when discussing that year’s election impasse. As FF and FG continued to slide in overall popularity, Dempsey was asked whether it was time both parties finally came together as, on policy, they were practically the same anyway. Dempsey put it bluntly by admitting that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael existing separately had prevented a left developing in Ireland. And he was right, on that anyway.
“Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government”
Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government. We have never had a Government fundamentally committed to a re-distribution of wealth downwards. We have never had a Government that wasn’t led by either FF or FG. We have never had a Government that didn’t put the demands of the property and landlord class, the elites, the gombeens, over the needs of the people. We have never had a Government that put the good of the many above the greed of the few.
Obviously we have had people and parties who do not support this right wing hegemony but conservatism, both social and political, was so strong that they were always confined to the fringes. This has changed. The right to divorce has been followed by marriage equality, sexual freedom, improved gender rights and Repeal of the Eighth Amendment as people power pushed clerical and political conservatism aside on social issues. These seismic changes, however, stand in stark contract to economic policy. Ireland is a tax haven riddled with inequality, we have socialised tens of billions of Euro of private speculators’ debts, we have a health system built on ensuring private profit over public health, there is a housing emergency created and sustained to enrich landlords and vulture funds, and we have the worst workers’ and Trade Union rights in our peer group of nations within the EU. I could go on.
But we have never had an electable ‘left’. In a political landscape heretofore dominated by conservatism, it is not surprising that all we have seen to date is the development of a range of small principled but doctrinaire parties and individuals, none of which have ever gotten even 10% of the number of seats or votes necessary to come to power. It may not be surprising, but it can no longer be good enough. Some, on principle, don’t even want to come to power within a capitalist system and describe progressives who seek an alternative Government to FF and FG as mere ‘reformers’.
“The opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute”
But the opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute. The current programme for Government is a neoliberal charter of political expediency, a treaty entered into by those desperate for power for power’s sake. Sinn Fein (SF) will now lead an opposition as the largest party in the state. It is telling that the largest party in the state has less than half the seats necessary to form a majority Government, but SF are nevertheless entitled to highlight the hypocrisy of refusals to engage with them on entering Government by those who so loudly demanded they do exactly that in the North.
I have no doubt however that both SF, and any ambition for Ireland’s first non Fianna Fail or Fine Gael Government, would have been significantly damaged had SF entered Government with either of Ireland’s two Tory parties. SF have some of the policies and personnel to lead a very effective opposition. But if we are to finally see the Irish electorate push both of those parties out of office in the next election, the rest of the left needs to coalesce and move beyond the politics of protest and eternal opposition.
There is much to be learned from the mass protests and organisation that led to the social changes outlined above, and the anti-water charges movement too. But progressive policy principles in the areas of Health, Housing, Workers’ Rights and the Environment, including water, can now potentially form an electable political platform to put before the electorate next time round. There is a chance for various shades of opposition to now begin to work together with, for the first time, the achievable ambition of our first progressive Government.
On the weekend that the electorate finally forced Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together, rather than be downhearted let us look at this as a long necessary and overdue evolution. An opportunity.
“Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood”
Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood. The future is there for a better, fairer Ireland. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coming together (and the Greens throwing themselves under a bus) creates the space to build for Ireland’s first progressive Government at last. Such a Government is a necessary ambition to drive greed and inequality out of office for once and for all.
On Wednesday, ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle submitted the following letter to the Irish Times for publication. It seems they decided not to print it, so we are publishing the full text below:
On page 22 of your newspaper (23 June 2020) you have a large photograph which bears the words ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’. These words and their presentation are a racist trope designed to undermine the global anti-racist ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Worse, the photograph contains a large artificially superimposed sets of the words, as the original words are being flown on a banner behind an aeroplane over a football ground and are virtually invisible. These larger words were presumably superimposed by your newspaper or the photographer. In either event, they dominate page 22 of your newspaper.
Efforts by racists and fascists to exploit sport include the Nazi exploitation of the 1936 Olympiad and Franco’s adoption of Real Madrid as a football club to popularise his fascist ideology. Further, since at least the 1970s, British xenophobes and racists have sought to append their toxic agenda to some of the country’s football clubs. It is no surprise that, given the global effort to finally address the historic racism against Black people in the wake of the disgusting murder of George Floyd, these elements would redouble their efforts to introduce race hate into football.
The surprise is that the Irish Times sees fit to assist them with this shocking display. It is tantamount to your newspaper offering a free advert to English racists.
I want to register my personal shock that your paper saw fit to produce this image and I also want to do so on behalf of Unite Trade Union, an avowedly anti-racist organisation who are involved in fighting racism in many forms in workplaces and in our community. Perhaps the Irish Times will consider this publication and whether some acknowledgment of a mistake is appropriate in the circumstances.
Brendan Ogle Unite Senior Officer – Republic of Ireland”
Kevin Squires, the National Coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Unite member, writes about the current situation regarding the Occupied Territories Bill to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.
As the new Israeli government moves to illegally annex yet more Palestinian land, anyone who has been following the fate of the Occupied Territories Bill will have seen it emerge as one of the principle sticking points in the ongoing Irish government formation negotiations.
If made law, the Bill would ban trade with illegal settlements in recognised occupied territories. In terms of Palestine, this would see an end to imports from Israeli entities in occupied Palestine and Syria.
THE LONG JOURNEY TOWARD JUSTICE
It’s been quite the journey for the Bill, first introduced by Senator Frances Black in 2018.
At present the Bill is supported by all parties in the Oireachtas, with the sole exception of Fine Gael, which has been a consistent opponent of the Bill during the term of the minority government, despite the bill being approved by the Seanad, and passing both its initial reading in the Dáil, and the Committee Stage.
Despite this overwhelming support, in order to prevent it becoming law, Fine Gael put the kibosh on the Bill by using the obscure Money Message mechanism; an undemocratic process by which the government of the day can refuse to enact any piece of legislation if it is deemed to require the use of state finances – in other words, any law that has been voted for by the majority of TDs but which the government does not wish to pass.
That’s where the Bill stood as we headed into the 2020 general election, and during that election all parties, Fine Gael excepted, pledged to enact it if in government.
And this is where we find the Bill today – one of several points of contention in the negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, and opposed only by a party that garnered barely 20% of the popular vote.
So far, both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have remained firm in their commitment to making it part of the Program for Government, while Fine Gael has continued its flat out rejection – while continuing to, at least formally, acknowledge that both the settlements and Israel’s plan to annex yet more Palestinian land are illegal and that something must be done.
LEGISLATION IS A LEGAL NECESSITY
The argument Fine Gael use is primarily that the Bill would be in violation of EU trade laws. To make this argument they rely on the unpublished opinion of the current Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe – and have denied parties or the public access to this opinion for over two years.
However, several eminent jurists and legal scholars argue the exact opposite, including Michael Lynn SC, James Crawford SC, Professor Takis Tridimas and former Attorney General Michael McDowell.
Indeed, legal scholars maintain that this legislation is actually a legal obligation required to bring Ireland into compliance with its duty to non-recognition of and non-assistance to serious breaches of international law; in this regardthe Bill is supported by current and former UN Special Rapporteurs for the Human Rights in Palestine Michael Lynk, John Dugard and Richard Falk.
There are secondary, more political, arguments that Fine Gael use – such as the Bill lessening Ireland’s influence with Israel (leverage which has been so immense in the past, apparently) – but the mainstay of their opposition is ostensibly based in perceived legal problems, and particularly that of the current Attorney General.
Of course, as we know from the experience with Ireland’s ban on imports from Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the advice of one AG can be overwritten by that of their successor. Then-AG Peter Sutherland argued that a ban would contravene EEC law, but his successor AG John Rogers argued the opposite, and Ireland in fact became the first EEC country to introduce such a ban setting a major precedent.
Today in Ireland we have a real chance to pass this equally historic legislation in support of oppressed peoples.
A STRONG COLLECTIVE CAMPAIGN GOT THE BILL THIS FAR
Of course, the Bill didn’t get this far on its own – its progress down to two and half years of amazing work by Sen. Frances Black and her office, Niall Collins TD who introduced it into the Dáil, and is a testament to the tireless lobbying and mobilisation work of civil society organisations such as Sadaka, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trocaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Palestinian groups like Al Haq and BADIL.
But most of all, the main driver of this Bill’s progress has been the general public, who have made their support widely known – so much so that the Bill was coming up on the doorsteps during the general election.
Despite Fine Gael’s continued opposition, all of us who have worked on this campaign firmly believe that we can still push it across the line – but we need to up the political pressure on Fine Gael in particular, but also to let Fianna Fáil and the Greens know that their stance is popular and supported.
Indeed, with Israel’s plan to annex some 30% more of the West Bank next month going virtually unopposed by the international community, we cannot abandon the Palestinian people at this critical time.
MORE ACTION IS VITAL TO PUSH THE BILL OVER THE LINE
So we are asking people to take a few minutes to engage the party leaders, Foreign Affairs and Trade spokespeople, and your local FF/FG/Green TDs to let them know that this legislation is an issue for you – thank the Greens and Fianna Fáil for holding firm, and call on Fine Gael to alter their rejectionist stance and bow to the democratic will of the people.
Experience has shown that it’s more effective to write your own messages – no matter how short or long – rather than copy and pasting a generic text, but if you need some tips they can be found here.
It is important to stress that no matter what you personally may think of any of the parties involved in these negotiations, if you care about Palestinian rights at all, you should try to send a message to them because, at the end of the day, this is not a legal battle, it is a political one.
And even if you think Fine Gael will not be moved – just remember that two years ago Fianna Fáil said they couldn’t support the Bill, and last year they introduced the legislation into the Dáil.
There is always hope – let us be guided by it to make history!
About the author
Kevin Squires is a member of Unite and the national coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For more information about the work of the IPSC and the latest news, views and analysis from and about Palestine you can check visitwww.ipsc.ie or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and all major Podcasting platforms.
 Although two weeks ago, its general gist appears to have been leaked to the Irish Independent
As the EU line up to kick Ireland again, unions must lead in defending jobs, sustainable Irish business & provision of improved public services
Brendan Ogle: As the ESRI predict the worst recession in our history, trade unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have led the way in providing a comprehensive and workable counter-analysis to the hawkish calls for austerity from Ireland’s crushing neoliberal consensus.
In the very weeks when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail first seemed to rule out tax increases going forward (including the ongoing refusal to accept the Apple Tax), and then state-led borrowing, an attack began on the COVID-19 payment, with people who have been forced into isolation being targeted for ‘being better off’ on €350 a week. Now we learn that, of €750bn targeted by the European Commission in a recovery fund of grants and loans for 27 member states, Ireland is earmarked for just €1.9 billion, a tiny 0.25% of the total. This for a country that Eurostat found had been forced to pay 42% of the total cost of the European banking debt following the financial crash.
Karen Doyle and Julia Marciniak from Unite Hospitality & Tourism branch take a look at the conditions workers face in Ireland’s Tourism sector.
What should be a time when most people are planning holidays, going on day trips, or planning some weekends away we find ourselves wondering if perhaps next year will be better? The global pandemic of Covid-19 has brought life as we know it to a standstill. Throughout Ireland the Hospitality and Tourism sector has been hit extremely hard with mass layoffs and the effective closing down of an entire industry. This blog aims to take a closer look at the tourism industry before, during and after this emergency and will offer some ideas on how workers within this vital sector can organise to better protect themselves for a better future. The time has never been more pressing than it is now to join a union and through collective actions demand for a better, fairer future as this vital sector recovers post crisis.
The Government website (gov.ie) ascribes that “Tourism is one of Ireland’s most important economic sectors. According to the latest estimates, in 2018, out of state (Overseas and Northern Ireland) tourists generated €5.6 billion for the Irish economy. This figure rises to €7.3 billion when fare receipts to Irish carriers are included. Domestic tourism was worth 2 billion, meaning the sector as a whole was worth €9.4 billion to the economy”
Tourism and the Economy
According to the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation www.itic.ie Tourism is Irelands largest indigenous industry employing up to 265,000 people with 68% jobs outside Dublin. This is hugely significant given the number of tourists visiting here, up to €9.3 million overseas visitors came to Ireland in 2018 spending €5.1 billion in the local economy. Given the figures it is easy to see why governments, both local and national, businesses and workers are reliant on this sector to remain viable into the future. Therefore, in organising this industry it is vital that workers are viewed as essential components to help rebuild our local economies as the sector looks to welcoming tourists once again.
Tourism and Céad Míle Fáilte
Since the beginning of this crisis our government, media and the wider public has rightly lauded frontline workers labelling themas essential. Indeed, these workers are helping to keep our communities safe and our shops open so that we can take care of ourselves and our families in these uncertain times.
Within all sectors of our economy there exists many other frontline and essential workers without whom the various sectors and the economy would simply grind to a halt.
Tourism workers are the face of Ireland. They are the storytellers of times past and the ones who give the world renowned céad míle fáilte to millions of tourists who visit our shores every year.
Working in the tourism industry is about telling the story of Ireland, workers draw from its unique and ancient culture with its vast and often troubled history in a way that brings the past to life, encapsulates the best of us at present, while showcasing Ireland as a future destination that has something to offer everyone.
Frontline workers in this industry are local ambassadors too, often helping tourists find their way about, answering queries and giving recommendations for where to eat, drink, visit and stay. These factors all help to contribute to the famous Irish welcome that visitors have come to expect, and it is one of the reasons why this industry thrives and why local businesses reap the benefits too, this is the beating heart of tourism, it’s where workers on the frontline of this industry excel at helping to deliver the best of what Ireland has to offer.
Working in Tourism: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Working in tourism can be rewarding, those workers we spoke to for this blog stated that getting to meet people from different parts of the world is a pleasure, educating tourists about Irish history and culture makes their job satisfying and for those workers who are outdoors or working in heritage and popular tourist sites work brings a sense of doing something different than the norm which these workers appreciate.
However, like their counterparts in the hospitality industry, tourism workers often have precarious work, earn low pay, get no extra pay for working on a Sunday, most workers have no job security and working conditions can be less than desirable.
Some workers do not receive their contracts or proper breaks, some complain of not getting their work roster in a timely manner, while one business we know of does not provide a toilet for their staff, yes, you read that correctly. Despite several attempts to resolve the issue workers here are still without the most basic of rights.
Many tourism workers have extensive knowledge of local and national history they hold university degrees, while many more attend related or professional courses to further their education in relation to their jobs, yet the pay and conditions these workers receive does not reflect the skills many of these workers have nor the overall input these workers deliver for the industry as a whole.
Another area of concern raised by some workers in the sector is the use of social media and apps such as TripAdvisor, some reviews can lead to added stress for workers. Bad reviews or even no reviews can lead to some workers experiencing their hours being reduced. The worker in this instance has little by way of right to reply to the complainant and must rely on management to step up when workers are wronged.
All these issues show how little respect is given to many workers in this sector without proper site inspections vital workers rights can be disregarded and ignored.
Tourism in a Post Pandemic Workplace
Workers returning to their jobs over the coming months must be satisfied that all health and safety measures are in place to keep them safe.
At a recent Covid-19 briefing on RTE, the Minister for Business, Heather Humphries, called for ‘every workplace to appoint one lead workers representative who will work with the employer to ensure Covid-19 measures are adhered to’, of course we would argue these ‘lead workers’ should be union members.
In the recently published research paper, commissioned by Unite and titled, Hope or Austerity, Dr Conor McCabe lays out clearly why we need to have confidence that measures are working as we reopen for business. ‘Guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be on a legal footing and subject to workplace checks by trade unions. This is to ensure that our members are protected, and that employers adhere to the regulations’.
As the Hospitality & Tourism industry returns and rebuilds post pandemic, the public must be assured that conditions in the workplace are satisfactory for the workers, and that it is a safe place for them to visit.
Therefore, it is the workers themselves in this sector who need to become unionised. Strengthened by their collective power they will then be better positioned to protect themselves and the public too. The workplace that has a unionised lead worker can be an advocate on broader work issues, raise health & safety matters with management and be a voice for workers grievances.
This is the best way forward for workers in an industry that has disregarded its front-line staff for too long while the industry has taken billions into the Irish economy on the backs of the hard work done by skilled and dedicated employees.
Tourism & Hospitality have much in common, the Covid -19 pandemic has had, and it will continue to have, a massive impact on tourism not just in Ireland but globally too. It is the sector that took the biggest hit and will take time to recover, jobs created by this sector and the economic impact is undeniable. Let us hope that Ireland’s key sectors, and those who run, regulate, and profit from them are taking this time to reflect on a little bit more than the bottom line.
And let us hope that workers too are reflecting and realising some important lessons this pandemic has given us; that all workers have value and their contributions are necessary to keep the wheels of the economy running, that it is the front-line workers in all sectors who are the biggest asset any company or business has.
It is now time to reflect, recharge, rethink and unionise.
Unite member Micheál Kelliher explains how the Public Health Emergency has exposed some of the structural inequalities in access to information for Deaf people.
Since Irish Sign Language (ISL) was recognised as Ireland’s third official language in December 2017, it has been a long and difficult fight to get the Act fully implemented. I am Unite member and a spokesperson for a campaign called #StopHidingISL. We started this campaign when RTÉ refused to include ISL in their broadcast during the national anthem at the All Ireland GAA finals in Croke Park in 2018.
The GAA were very good in including a Deaf person and an ISL interpreter to sign the national anthem at Croke Park on finals day so that the Deaf people at the game could be involved with their hearing friends and family members. However, RTÉ failed to feature this in their broadcast. This excluded the Deaf people at home and in pubs across Ireland from participating in their national anthem before the game began. RTÉ at that time said that it was technically impossible to include the ISL user on screen, in a bubble for example. However TG4, a significantly smaller station and the GAA managed to do just that without any issue.
In the same month, the Pope was visiting Ireland and was sharing a large, bright stage with the Taoiseach. The interpreter was off the stage, far away in a dark corner away from the cameras. It was somewhat ironic that the Pope was speaking about how society should be more equal, while my access was actively hidden from the screens?
The #StopHidingISL campaign has asked RTÉ about this situation, and their response was that they were filming for an international audience, and that ISL is ‘obsolete’. Wow! It’s a strange word to use. When someone is speaking Irish, does RTÉ tell this person their language is obsolete or edit them out? I’ve never seen this happen, but somehow it keeps happening with ISL! There are clear signs of discrimination and active exclusion of our language.
COVID-19 Health Warnings
When the global COVID-19 pandemic came to the forefront of news broadcasts in Ireland, the Deaf community was initially excluded from access to crucial information in their preferred language for more than a week. Without having access to critical information, we were vulnerable to misinformation and misinterpretation.
Some of you may be wondering why written English is not an adequate form of communication for Deaf people in these circumstances. Sign language is a visual language which like all languages develops organically and for some Deaf people, spoken and written English is like a foreign language. It’s critical that everyone has access to information in their first language so they won’t put themselves and everyone else at risk. Inclusion is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to protect society as a whole.
After a campaign involving the Irish Deaf Society, Chime, and the Deaf community, we got our first briefing with Irish Sign Language on the 5th of March with the HSE (or Department of Health) but it was still a disaster for us. The camera kept focusing in on the speakers and cutting the ISL interpreters out of the shot. The interpreters kept trying to walk into shot so they could be seen by viewers. It was clear that the media team needed some Deaf Awareness training. Slowly, we ISL is becoming more prominent in briefings, because of media teams becoming more aware, but it has been slow and difficult to make progress.
Despite the passing into law of the Irish Sign Language Recognition ACT there is still no consistency across government and state institutions. When we achieve access to information in our language with one agency, we have to do it all over again with other agencies, departments, media companies and staff. In recent weeks we have observed briefings and announcements by the Ministers for Health, Education, Finance, and the department of An Taoiseach without Irish Sign Language interpreters.
Another situation which is of great concern to our community is the education and inclusion of Deaf children. RTÉ launched a valuable initiative called the Home School Hub, to help with home schooling that children all over the country are facing. However, RTÉ yet again failed to include Deaf children who are ISL users.
For the first week or so, out of concern for the children Deaf teachers and special needs assistants stepped in and volunteered their time to translate the content into ISL. The Deaf community and its organisations again mobilised to campaign to get ISL included in the Home School Hub.
The approach to sharing information in ISL is not consistent across platforms either. For example, there are regular videos with ISL on RTÉ’s social media pages coming from the HSE’s daily briefings. But when the Taoiseach made an announcement about restrictions on the 1st of May, there were no videos with ISL on their social media pages, leading to confusion and stress when trying to access the new information. The ISL videos were only on the RTE News Now TV channel, and RTÉ Player. Each Deaf person has their own preferences on where they get news, e.g. TV channels, newspapers, websites, social media. And besides, not everyone has TV or the Internet. Access to information in Irish Sign Language should be on all media platforms.
Deaf communities around the world are experiencing similar barriers. British Sign Language users and the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign have started a class action legal case against the UK government. The World Federation of the Deaf and World Association of Sign Language Interpreters has made a joint statement “reminding governments on all levels of their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities (CRPD) to ensure full access to information and accessibility to all services under CRPD Articles 9 and 21.” The Irish government ratified the CRPD, but they, their agencies, departments and public owned companies consistently fail to follow the convention.
Moving forward, I hope that seeing ISL interpreters on screens will be normalised and not only during exceptional events. Interpreters are signs of an inclusive society and can inspire some people to learn ISL, and to let Deaf people play a bigger part in our inclusive society.
Here is a list of demands that I, and members of the Deaf community, would like to see all media companies, agencies and departments follow:
When interpreters are at televised events, they must be beside speakers and on camera, no matter if the audience is national or international.
Media teams should receive Deaf Awareness training and always keep access and inclusivity in their minds.
Full time and well paid staff who are fluent in ISL at RTÉ to always be ready for exceptional announcements or sudden changes (e.g. red warning weathers, COVID-19), in a timely manner (information translates immediately, not a few days later).
Consistent access to Irish Sign Language and subtitles across all media platforms, from TV channels (including the main one) and websites to social media.
Provide full access to ISL and subtitles for important events in our society like political debates.
Roles such as policy officers with a focus on access to ISL across all departments, agencies and media.
The demands above are so simple, and some of them don’t cost anything. We are aware that there won’t be any ‘getting back to normal’ after the COVID-19 pandemic. RTÉ shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, actively excluding ISL from screens. The government departments and agencies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, forgetting about the Deaf community’s needs. The media companies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, having inconsistent approach on sharing information in ISL on all of their media platforms. I’m hopeful that we will keep going forward, not backwards.
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” – Verna Myers