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Sign language failure disappointing

Following the ‘fake interpreter’ debacle at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, two general observations can be made in relation to Ireland.

While the incident has heightened awareness among the public that interpretation is a profession with high standards to be upheld, especially between signed and spoken languages, many of us are keen to point out that such an incident is not solely confined to South Africa. These situations can, and do, arise frequently in this country.

We have come to know about several Irish cases where the requirements for professional interpretation have been flouted with quite hazardous consequences. Non-qualified persons are often procured for interpreting tasks, ranging from meetings with medical consultants to interpreting for defendants standing before the courts. We hope that policymakers realise that the interpreting profession needs to be strictly regulated in order to protect the interests of all users of signed and spoken languages.

However, this hope seems to be somewhat dashed given the recent ‘state of the nation’ speech by the Taoiseach. It was disheartening that there appeared to be no attempt to interpret his speech into Irish sign language. It gives one little hope that the legacy of Mandela will be respected, or that such exclusionary provision of service will not be tolerated anymore in this country. Credit is due to the Irish Deaf Society for placing a translated version of the speech online for the benefit of Irish sign language users. Let us hope that we can learn from this episode, and that policymakers take heed.

Dr John Bosco Conama

Oldcourt Road

Dublin 24


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