Community Law & Mediation (CLM) has marked its 10th anniversary in Limerick, at an event attended by the Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell.
The organisation has called for extra resources for the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Justice in Budget 2023 in order to increase the current €18,000 income threshold to qualify for civil legal aid.
While there are allowances against income for accommodation and childcare costs, CLM has described these current rates as “severely out of touch” with the reality of the current cost-of-living crisis.
The organisation has also urged the Government to ensure that the Legal Aid Board is adequately resourced, so that waiting times of up to 35 weeks to access legal aid can be reduced.
CLM also wants the statutory limitations of the existing Civil Legal Aid scheme to be removed, so that people can access legal aid areas such as housing, debt, social welfare, equality, and employment.
Call for consistency
Sinead Kerin (solicitor and manager of CLM Limerick) said the group had identified a number of problems that persisted from year to year, and required urgent reform.
“We are frequently called on to advocate on behalf of clients, some with young babies, who have been refused access to emergency accommodation; many of our clients have been on waiting lists for over a decade, some as long as 15 years, to access adequate social housing; and many of our clients are forced to live without heating or running water and with poor sanitation – a breach of their basic human rights,” she commented.
Kerin called for such issues to be tackled “on a consistent basis” at local-authority level.
“At a minimum, we are calling for consistency and fairness across the board in the treatment of applications for emergency accommodation,” she stated.
Housing tops demand list
The group’s annual report shows that it helped or advised 4,418 people at its two centres in Dublin and Limerick in 2021.
CLM says that, since its first year in operation in Limerick, demand for its services has increased by 300%, and the law centre now assists almost 1,000 people a year.
The top five areas of demand for legal assistance in Limerick were: housing; family; employment; social welfare; and wills and probate.
The only independent community law centre outside Dublin, the Limerick centre was set up in 2012, mainly to deal with legal needs within the areas identified for redevelopment under the Limerick Regeneration Programme.
Rose Wall (CEO of CLM, pictured) said that its community-based model could serve as blueprint for roll-out nationwide, in place of existing legal-aid structures.