Plans by RTE to slash funding for TV programming for the deaf were yesterday branded a betrayal of its broadcasting responsibilities.
RTE has said it will cut financial support for signed TV programming by 60pc, saving more than €100,000 a year. The signing of the news headlines is unaffected.
But the cut will mean that instead of producing 20 shows a year in the 'Hands On' series, the station will now slash production to just seven, or barely more than one every two months, activists claimed.
But RTE later said that 10 programmes were envisaged, rising to 20 when repeats were shown. 'Hands On' is the only dedicated programme for the deaf on Irish television. Being signed, voiced-over and subtitled, it is fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing as well as a mainstream audience.
Other areas of RTE face reductions in the region of 10pc. Labour TD Kathleen Lynch said such cuts were bad enough, but the depth of the cuts being forced on the deaf were "unsustainable and unacceptable."
She said the station should already be providing 1pc signed programming, but was falling short of this target.
"People who are deaf or hearing impaired pay the same TV licence fee as everybody else and yet the only programme, aimed at and produced by deaf people, is now under threat," she said. RTE should reconsider this decision as a matter of urgency, she said.
The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland requires that it provide 1pc signed programming, and have recommended increasing this to 5pc, although the existing level will now be reduced dramatically.
A spokeswoman for RTE said the station was committed to providing the most appropriate and up-to-date services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
"We are aware that more can be done to assist the participation of the deaf and hard of hearing in a wider range of programmes, from light entertainment to current affairs, and this is now an editorial objective for RTE television.
"Since 2003, subtitling on RTE One has increased by 76pc and by 203pc on RTE Two. Current levels of subtitling are over 90pc on RTE One and 60pc on RTE Two during peak viewing.
"Our annual budget for subtitling is more than €1m and we will continue to invest in this service."