Yesterday in the Senate I asked whether the Minister for Education and Science recognised the necessity of core funding for the continuance of deaf studies in Trinity College, Dublin. The Minister of State fielded my questions and he is aware that Trinity College, Dublin is the only college where deaf studies are taught in Ireland.
It has done a magnificent job in teaching deaf studies and Irish sign language. The school is concerned there may be a curtailment in its funding during this year. It is very important that we get a statement today reassuring us there is no intention on behalf of the Government to do anything of the sort.
The Centre for Deaf Studies currently trains five to ten Irish sign language-English interpreters a year, which comes to a total of approximately 50 in the Republic of Ireland when 200 are needed. Even the stark figures will demonstrate to the Minister of State the fact the centre is operating on a shoestring, €440,000 a year is what it needs to continue.
As the Minister of State will be aware, deaf people in Ireland are chronically unemployed. They appear to be discriminated against in a way that minorities should not be. It would be a great tragedy if the funding which the centre expected, has received in the past and hopes to achieve in the future is curtailed. It would be another indication of the fact minorities are being victimised or, at the least, neglected in this budget, when minorities of this sort should not be touched. If there are to be cutbacks, they should not affect deaf people, disabled people or minorities of any sort.
Deaf people are four times more likely to be unemployed in recessionary times and, as the Minister will know, we are now in recessionary times. If there are cutbacks in this area, that figure will increase. This is a serious and inhumane situation which requires close attention from the Minister. Earlier this year, I believe in August, the Higher Education Authority ended core funding to higher education bodies. Instead, it set up a strategic innovation vulnerable subjects fund, which I understand has a pot of only €1 million, and if the two Trinity College applicants succeeded, on their own they would cause that figure to go over that limit.
The Centre for Deaf Studies put in an application in September and it is extremely worried that it now has enough funding to last it only until the end of December. It has not received a reply from the HEA and wonders about the reason for that when it only has sufficient money to last about another five weeks.
In terms of its needs, the centre requires €440,000 a year to keep it to its current levels; that is without any increase. It does not occupy space within Trinity College Dublin, which puts it at a severe disadvantage for rent. It spends €100,000 a year on rent and non-pay costs, which are almost inevitable as it cannot find space within the university and therefore has more expenses than if it were on campus. The pay costs take up the remainder of its budget.
The core funding is essential but it is even more essential that it is not cut because the strategic innovation vulnerable subjects fund is matched against the core funding fund euro for euro. Any reduction in the core funding by the Minister, therefore, would mean a reduction in the strategic innovation vulnerable subjects fund.
I will give the Minister of State some examples of where deaf people will suffer. It will mean cutbacks in the blended learning degree with the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown, NUI Cork and Limerick Institute of Technology. Although the Department has given the go-ahead for an M.Phil in deaf studies for teachers of the deaf, if there is no increase in core funding there will be no course. It will mean a curtailment of its signal project, which will need to be cut back because the ability to pay external lecturers will be curtailed also. It will mean a similar curtailment in the D-Signs project and the training of Irish Sign Language interpreters will cease.
This is a serious issue for a small minority of people — perhaps 5,000 — but it will affect 95,000 people. There is about a 10:1 ratio in terms of people who are affected by one deaf person because of the necessity for them to learn sign language also. I ask the Minister to assure us that there will be no cutbacks that will handicap the deaf further.
In his reply the Minister of State stated, “Trinity College has again made a request to the HEA for specific funding for the Centre for Deaf Studies for 2009. That request is under consideration with the HEA.” How long will that take? These people are working to a budget for 2009. When can they expect to have some certainty in preparing for their courses and their overheads for 2009? The least that could happen is that they would be told what they expect to get and whether their funding will be cut. When will they know because it is now November?
Leaving the Centre completely financially adrift is reckless and irresponsible, the best the Minister for State could do was suggest that he may confer with others and report at a later time. It’s almost December, they need reassurance now or at the very least a realistic projection for next year.