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CLM calls for urgency on legal-aid report
Pic: RollingNews.ie

21 Mar 2024 / justice Print

CLM calls for urgency on legal-aid report

Community Law & Mediation (CLM), the independent community law centre and charity, has called for the report on a review of the civil legal-aid scheme to be published “as a matter of urgency”.

The charity’s housing solicitor Mary Heavey (small picture) was speaking at a hearing of the Oireachtas committee on issues affecting the Traveller community today (21 March).

CLM told the committee that legal aid was generally unavailable for housing or land disputes, and that this affected Travellers disproportionately.

‘Unmet need’

“We see a huge unmet legal need for advice and representation to members of the Traveller community, particularly in the area of accommodation,” said Heavey.

Describing the legal-aid scheme as “severely outdated”, she expressed concern that, with a general election approaching, reform would “once again fall through the cracks”.

The charity is calling for the extension of the scheme to include matters linked to housing, employment, and equality.

Equality recommendations

CLM has also called for “significant” reform of the Equality Acts to improve their effectiveness in combatting discrimination.

Ahead of the expected publication of a bill on the issue during this legislative term, CLM has made a series of recommendations for changes – including the removal of “the effective exemption” from the Equal Status Act for public bodies administering legislation in key areas such as housing.

The organisation is also urging “robust and effective” consultation with the Traveller community during an upcoming review of a pilot scheme that provides loans for caravans.

Its previous research found that loan amounts were too low, and that there was a lack of awareness of the scheme among Travellers, due to “sporadic and inconsistent implementation across local authorities”.

CLM has also called for a referendum on housing to insert a right to adequate housing into the Irish Constitution.

FLAC ‘disappointment’

Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) also appeared before the committee, with managing solicitor Sinéad Lucey expressing disappointment about what she described as an absence of “meaningful legal changes” in the areas of Traveller accommodation and equality law in recent years.

FLAC’s written submission to the committee contained recommendations on:

  • Enhancing the planning process and ensuring delivery of Traveller accommodation,
  • Preventing evictions of Traveller families living on the roadside with no procedural safeguards,
  • Introducing minimum standards for all forms of Traveller accommodation,
  • Ensuring that the conditions for access to social housing and emergency accommodation do not indirectly discriminate against Travellers, and
  • Ensuring that there is an effective remedy for racial profiling and discrimination in the housing context.

FLAC has also called on the Oireachtas committee to engage with the Legal Aid Board on the resourcing of its Minceir Traveller Legal Support Service, which currently employs only one solicitor.

“This is no way near the level of resources necessary to tackle the huge amount of unmet legal need amongst the Traveller community,” said Lucey.

The two organisations' appearances at the committee come after a report from a Council of Europe committee found this week that Ireland was still not in conformity with the European Social Charter on Traveller accommodation.

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