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Sinn Féin express concerns at future of Regional Interpreting Services

9 November, 2005

Sinn Féin has expressed serious concerns to the Department of Health over plans to privatise or 'outsource' the Regional Interpreting Services programme. Sinn Féin health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA said he believes this move will adversely affect attempts to mainstream racial equality in the north of Ireland.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"Turning such a service, which is based on clear social need, into a 'for-profit' business could result in outcomes which are contrary to TSN requirements. Furthermore there is a concern that the service will become short-term and profit driven as opposed to being on a proper and strategic long-term developmental basis.

"I was also extremely concerned to learn that the Department intends to undertake a short consultation period of only 3 weeks, contrary to the Department's own Equality Scheme and to Equality Commission guidelines. Sinn Féin contacted the Equality Commission to raise our concerns and seek their advice in this matter. The Equality Commission's view was that such a short consultation period was in breach of the Department's Equality Scheme and has advised Mr Seamus Camplisson of the Department of Health's Evaluation and Equality Unit accordingly.

"I have contacted the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Dr Andrew McCormack, and asked him to provide me with evidence to show that privatising the service will offer value for money. I have asked for an assurance that the Department will adhere to its Section 75 duties in this matter and carry out a full consultation and I have also asked to be provided with copies of all the documentation relating to the Equality Screening process for these changes to the Interpretation Services.

"The Department's Regional Interpreting Service was established some years ago as a project within the Department that trained and supplied community interpreters for all aspects of the its' work. It meant, for example, that children were no longer interpreting for adults in GP surgeries, hospitals etc, and that those who didn't speak English could have free access to an interpreter and so fully understand their illness and it's implications. The Department's proposals now means that they are now planning to reverse the mainstreaming of this work and privatise it. Although the Department will obviously deny it is privatisation, this is without doubt a step backwards. It means that a private company could successfully tender for the delivery of interpreting services, which essentially could mean that the focus on health and well-being will be replaced by a profit-making motive." ENDS

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