On July 31st, solicitors from the Mercy Law Resource Centre attended the launch of FLAC’s Annual Report 2016. Introduced by Minister for Justice & Equality Charlie Flanagan, the report outlined the details of the work undertaken by FLAC. This included responding to the 25,710 people who sought legal advice from FLAC, both through telephone referral line and their 67 clinics throughout Ireland.
Work Done this Year
FLAC Chairperson Peter Ward noted some of the positive work undertaken by FLAC throughout the past year. He praised the strong commitment of FLAC volunteers, as well as partner networks such as the Citizen’s Information Centres and other information centres which allow those in need to access legal advice. Mr Ward highlighted significant victories within the past year, including the introduction of the ‘Abhaile’ scheme, offering legal aid for those in danger of mortgage repossession, and the work of PILA, a collection of 120 Irish firms, barristers and academics. PILA provided support for the case of Robbie Sinnott and the Blind Legal Alliance, which gained private ballot facilities for those with visual impairment.
“Getting basic legal information and advice to people when and where they need it is the first step in ensuring access to justice. FLAC volunteers provide this in communities all around Ireland”
Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of FLAC, noted the importance of a review under way into the eligibility requirements for civil legal aid. Further, she welcomed a decision of the Legal Aid Board to defer restricting access to the District Court Family Law Private Practitioners for those facing issues of access, guardianship, or custody of children. Such a move would have put further strain on a legal aid system which features delays of up to half a year for a first appointment in certain areas of the country. MLRC also welcomes the decision to defer any restriction and is very aware of the ongoing detrimental impact on applicants of the current delays in accessing legal aid.
Work still to do
Both Ms. Barry and Mr. Ward outlined that significant goals still remained for FLAC to surmount. Last March, a UN Committee recommended that Ireland abolish requirements for those dealing with domestic violence to pay financial contributions when seeking legal protection. The Law Society of Ireland echoed these calls, and yet financial impediments still stand in the way of those in need of such protections in Ireland.
Of similar significance were the budgetary constraints that limit the real application of legal aid to those in need. Ms Barry stated that “there needs to be a realistic review of its budget, there needs to be investment to be able to deal with delays”. These issues may be exacerbated by a new Assisted Decision Making Act 2015 which, while welcome, is likely to increase the strain on the Legal Aid Board. MLRC welcomes the comments of Ms Barry in relation to the limitations on access to legal aid and also highlights the absence of legal aid provision in relation to housing matters, including evictions.
Role for Mercy Law Resource Centre
Mercy Law Resource Centre deals with many of the issues outlined by the FLAC report on a daily basis. The current housing crisis threatens many individuals and families with homelessness, without adequate supports to keep it at bay. As such, our mission is to provide free legal advice and representation for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while also providing training and policy research to help highlight the issues faced by our clients. In conjunction with other legal centres and volunteer groups we aim to significantly reduce the threat and effect of homelessness throughout Ireland and to ensure legal advice and representation is available and accessible to those in acute need.