Deaf community accuse RTÉ of 'virtually ignoring' members during Pope's visit and All-Ireland final

Members of the Irish deaf community has accused RTE of having “virtually ignored” it, and Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreters, who were working at the Pope’s visit last weekend.

Deaf community accuse RTÉ of 'virtually ignoring' members during Pope's visit and All-Ireland final

By David Raleigh

Members of the Irish deaf community have accused RTÉ of having “virtually ignored” it, and Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreters, who were working at the Pope’s visit last weekend.

A protest by members of the deaf community is due to take place outside RTÉ studios around the country, including at its main Donnybrook studios in Dublin, and at its Cork studios, at 4pm this Thursday, over the controversy, confirmed one of the group's spokespeople, Cormac Leonard.

A protest may also take place at RTE's Limerick studios, Mr Leonard added.

It has also led to the birth of a social media awareness campaign on Twitter, entitled #StopHidingISL.

The Irish Deaf Society (IDS) has said it fully supports the planned protest.

The protest group claimed RTÉ also largely ignored the first public performance of the newly translated ISL version of Amhrán na bhFiann during last Sunday week’s All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park.

A statement released by the protest group, Monday, said it was “frustrated and let down by RTE’s attitude to Irish Sign Language.”

Highlighting RTE’s televised coverage of the Pope’s meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Dublin Castle, it said that an ISL interpreter was positioned “too far away from the television cameras to be seen clearly by Deaf viewers at home”.

“Pope Francis talked about a more equal society, but Deaf ISL users were excluded from this event,” claimed Micheál Kelliher, another of the protest group’s spokespeople.

“The interpreter was deliberately positioned off the stage. In fact, he was as far away from it as possible, and virtually ignored by the RTÉ cameras,” he claimed.

ISL was recognised in law through the Irish Sign Language Act, 2017.

The Act places a duty on broadcasters to follow the principles of equality, dignity and respect when promoting and broadcasting programmes produced as part of their BAI targets for signed language programming.

The protest group said the “belief amongst the Deaf community, who use ISL as their first language, is that RTÉ would prefer that sign language only be visible during designated ISL television slots”.

It said a, “historic…first public performance of the newly translated ISL version of Amhrán na bhFiann” at Croke Park on August 19th last, had “received significant media attention beforehand online and on radio”.

However, “RTÉ television cameras, only broadcast a few seconds of the minute-long performance”.

More than 4,000 people have signed the group’s online petition asking RTÉ to broadcast the full ISL singing of the anthem at the All Ireland Football Final on September 2nd.

Mr Kellier claimed: “The (RTE) cameras avoided the ISL performance as much as possible…when they easily could have organised for the ISL version to be broadcast onto the corner of all our screens.”

There are approximately 5,000 deaf ISL users in the country, with an estimated additional 40,000 hearing people who also regularly use ISL.

Irish Deaf Society

In an open letter, published Monday, the Irish Deaf Society expressed its “disappointment with the national broadcaster RTÉ for failing to include Irish Sign Language for the Deaf community in all the recent broadcasts of the Papal Visit to Ireland this past weekend.”

It claimed it made contact with RTÉ on Thursday, 16th August, “to enquire about their plans to include the Irish Sign Language Interpreters on screen that had been booked to interpret at various events during the Pope’s visit such as at Dublin Castle, St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and at the Phoenix Park”.

“Whilst Interpreters were visible in the background at all these events, it was disappointing that they were not included on screen for Deaf viewers at home watching the proceedings.”

“Had the Interpreter been situated on stage translating into Irish Sign Language, it would have given Deaf viewers at home full access to the proceedings.”

It also supported calls for RTÉ to broadcast, in full, the ISL performance of the national anthem during the All-Ireland Football Final, next Sunday.


In a detailed response RTÉ acknowledged that “live signing” of the Pope’s visit was “not possible” but it said it did provide “live subtitling”.

It added: “Live signing, as incorporated into many events, is often difficult to capture satisfactorily for home viewers.”

“As host broadcaster for the papal visit, RTÉ was providing a world feed. There were a number of languages other than English in use, and this, along with the numerous countries where an Irish Sign Language interpretation would be obsolete, meant that live signing of the event on television was not possible.”

“As such, RTÉ provided live subtitling for the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland.”

“In addition, the Monday evening highlights programme tonight at 8.30pm on RTÉ News Now will be signed in ISL. RTÉ News with Signing was scheduled on both days, on Saturday at 17.53 and Sunday at 17.53.”

It added: “RTÉ has been looking at live signing for some time. Trials, of which tonight's Papal Visit highlights programme is a part, are actively testing live signing facilitated from RTÉ's studios.”

“The most recent independent assessments shows that RTÉ has not only met, but has exceeded the targets set for Irish sign language and subtitling.”

A spokesman for RTÉ stated he was not in a position to comment about the station’s live broadcasting schedule for the All Ireland Football Final.

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