THE father of a profoundly deaf Cork teenager has told an Oireachtas committee he felt “broken in two” when he was forced to go to the High Court to vindicate his son’s right to education.
Andrew Geary, whose son Calum was born without an auditory nerve, was appearing before the Oireachtas education committee in the wake of his family settling their High Court battle after a decade-long fight.
Calum has no other language except Irish Sign Language (ISL) which is an official language of this country, and his family had campaigned for him to receive his education through an ISL classroom interpreter.
The Irish Sign Language Act 2017, which made ISL an official State language, places a statutory duty on every public body to provide free interpretation for all statutory services and entitlements, including education.
The Ballyhooly family began campaigning when Calum entered primary school, but, Mr Geary said, nothing could have prepared them for the demands of the legal challenge which they mounted in 2021.
“I deeply, deeply love my country, but it tore me apart that I felt I was being disloyal to my own country bringing it to the High Court and it has broken me in two.”
Mr Geary, who has had a 25-year career with An Garda Síochána, said love of country was what compelled any public servant to public service, and that love was based upon the call of the founders of the State, that we found a country based on the principles of a republic. “Are we truly a republic? How far have we moved in our 101 years of independence towards being a full republic if a child, one of the innocent children of our State, has to go in and beg for access to his education? Where is the republic in that?”
“How do I ask my son to give service to the State for the rest of his life if the same country I’m asking him to pledge his allegiance to won’t even give him access to an education?”
The Gearys had argued the lack of proper supports in schools had denied deaf children their rights, and Mr Geary said families should not be forced to go to battle to vindicate the rights of their children.
The Geary family’s High Court settlement means Calum, who is now 14 and has started secondary school, will benefit from the support of a fully qualified sign-language interpreter in the classroom, meaning he has been able to take up subjects including French in Bishopstown Community School.
Mr Geary said Calum is thriving, but it had been a long and difficult road for the family, who would have had to sell their home to pay over €100,000 in legal costs had they lost the case. “Why was my son, my family, forced to go through absolutely draining, depressing, stressful, absolutely momentous climbing, emotionally and financially, for two years through the High Court, after eight years of campaigning?”
Mr Geary was speaking before the committee at the invitation of Fianna Fáil’s Padraig O’Sullivan, who was among a number of TDs to raise Calum’s story in the Dáil.