Gardaí play their part in helping to make Portlaoise Ireland's first deaf friendly town

Lynda Kiernan


Lynda Kiernan


Gardaí in the Portlaoise District show their certificates having completed a beginners Irish Sign Language Course with Midlands ISL Learners

Ten Portlaoise-based Gardaí are now skilled in basic Irish Sign Language after undergoing special training to help make Portlaoise become Irelan's first deaf friendly town.

The Gardaí learned general sign language in the 10-hour course but also had five extra hours of training in sign language specifically to communicate with all of the public at checkpoints and in garda stations.

The training was provided by the Midlands Irish Sign Language Learners community organisation, based in Laois.

Garda Sergeant Karen Reilly organised the training after she was contacted by the group.

“They are aiming to make Portlaoise Ireland's first deaf friendly town. They approached me and I approached the Gardaí. They all really enjoyed it and a few are interested in going on to Level 1 training now. It really helps to improve relations in the community, to make sure everyone is included,” she said.

Sgt Reilly is highly qualified in Irish Sign Language herself. She has a level 3 qualification with Deaf Hear, and a level 2 with Midlands ISL. She began training 14 years ago.

“It helps in many situations, particularly crime prevention. I would do sign language at a lot of crime prevention meetings in the midlands. I give directions on St Patrick's Day. I would be called upon to give assistance in court too. Now that they know other Gardaí are trained, they can get the call too,” Sgt Reilly said.

The group was trained by Derek Maguire from Midlands ISL Learners who also teaches classes in schools in Portlaoise.

The voluntary organisation teaches conversational sign language classes to the general community, with the aim of breaking down communication barriers between the deaf and hearing.