Speaking to the Gazette, BCLC community solicitor Paul Dornan said that the 21st anniversary reception was an occasion not just to reflect on the history of BCLC and its work, but to celebrate its links with the people and community of Ballymun.
It was also an opportunity to thank all of its staff and volunteers for their dedication down through the years.
Origins and odyssey
The centre started from humble beginnings in 2002, three years after local groups ignited a flame in the pursuit of legal services, which led to the creation of the Ballymun Community Law Centre Campaign Committee in response to the unmet legal needs of the community.
Through sheer dedication and campaigning, Ballymun Community Law Centre (BCLC) was born.
Attendees heard tales of triumph over adversity, and heart-warming initiatives, such as the Law Club run in Trinity Comprehensive School, which works with TY students to give them a better understanding of law.
Community outreach and engagement is pivotal in spreading the word of this much-needed legal services. Every year, students take part in a mock trial, presided over by a member of the judiciary.
Words into action
Gary Lee, who is chair of the Law Society’s Human Rights Committee, was the head of the BCCL for five years.
“Before the law centre opened in 2002, there were no solicitors in Ballymun – yet it has a core population of 22,000! The centre deals with housing, welfare and health. We get great support from the solicitors’ profession and have a panel of barristers.
The centre has come a long way, navigating the twists and turns of the community’s challenges. But it’s the people, their resilience, and the shared commitment to justice that have brought it to this point.
Access to justice
Community solicitor Paul Dornan expressed his thanks to Roderic O’Gorman (Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth) and to all the attendees for helping the centre mark its 21st anniversary.
The minister (small picture) reflected on his time collaborating with BCCL on public legal education, and the impact this had on his own understanding of the vital nature of access to justice.
Law Society support
During his presentation, Law Society President Barry MacCarthy congratulated the law centre for its work in ensuring access to justice for all.
BCCL relies heavily on donations to sustain its legal services, and receives voluntary contributions from many Law Society members.
They have the option to financially assist the centre’s work by ticking the relevant box when filling out their practising-cert renewal forms – and have been doing so since 2007.
Law Society Director General Mark Garrett commented: “Approximately 80% of solicitors made donations to community law centres last year.”
Paul Dornan said: “We are grateful to have President Barry MacCarthy with us, as the Law Society has been such a long-standing supporter of the centre.”
Law centre manager Claire McSweeney spoke about how BCLC has become central to the fabric of Ballymun by providing an essential lifeline for local residents who require the legal services on offer.
In 2018, over 456 people engaged with the centre in the form of legal representation and other legal services provided by the centre.
Gary Lee explains: “Funding was cut from the regeneration fund. Despite that, there’s a lot of support from solicitors in private practice – that’s the legal side of it. Through pro bono work, we can and do refer clients.
“But it’s not just locals – organisations in the community are supported legally by the centre, too. Despite the funding cuts and offering a free service, we don’t provide any less of a service. We strive to provide the best service to the client,” he concluded.
BALLYMUN COMMUNITY LAW CENTRE
Ballymun Community Law Centre provides free legal advice, representation, legal education, and mediation for individuals and community groups within Ballymun.
The Ballymun Community Law and Mediation Centre was established in 2002 to tackle unmet legal need in Ballymun. The centre seeks to empower individuals experiencing disadvantage, and to give people in the community access to justice by providing quality free legal advice, information and legal representation.
It has been granted independent law-centre status by the Law Society of Ireland and provides legal advice on all areas of law through its free legal-advice clinics.
The law centre also offers legal representation and advocacy, including court and tribunal representation in areas of law not covered by the civil legal-aid scheme.
BCLC provides a legal education programme, a mediation service, and training in mediation skills.
Sarah Barrett is public relations executive at the Law Society of Ireland.