The Irish Traveller Movement welcome Review of Civil Legal Aid and appointment of Bernard Joyce to Review Group

The Irish Traveller Movement welcomes the appointment of Bernard Joyce Director, on behalf of our national membership of local Traveller organisations to the Civil Legal Aid Review Group established by Minister Helen McEntee, tasked with conducting a full review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme.

According to Bernard “The reform of legal aid has the potential to improve accessibility for Travellers and other disadvantaged groups who have encountered unnecessary structural obstacles , and for whom services are designed. The Review is important to clarify where gaps are, and reform these to allow affected groups including Travellers a full legal basis for vindicating rights.”

Exemptions in the legal aid system mean Travellers are not sufficiently covered or have parity across all equality grounds, in practice and design, for example there is no legal advice or representation  in quasi-judicial tribunals, such as in cases to the Workplace Relations Commission on grounds of discrimination in the provision of accommodation, goods and services and in employment, as they are not covered by the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995.

Legal aid is not available in cases involving evictions, despite recommendations in 2016 under the European Committee on Social Rights for Ireland to reform legislation in this regard.

In consultation toward the Ministerial review the Irish Traveller Movement outlined other obstacles for Travellers including;

  • Restrictions in the  Civil Legal Aid Act which limits access for people seeking legal redress on accommodation matters, or broadly in claims of discrimination under the Equal Status Acts including for social welfare appeals, and in employment cases.
  • Costs: The consultation and representation fee is a barrier for some with onerous needs assessment and thresholds criteria, and where large families were unable to access legal aid due to the Housing Assistance Payment putting them over the threshold
  • There is an over emphasis on family law and less on civil matters in legal aid services, and limited experience in equality matters among solicitors across the Centres. Also, solicitors and administrative staff are not trained in cultural competency, and are less equipped to deal with cases that might commonly arise for Travellers

Many Travellers who encounter difficulties in securing legal aid, including where they have been told their case does not meet legal aid criteria, are deterred from taking a case further or future cases despite encountering discrimination in accessing services. This has led to a distancing from legal aid in many counties, and therefore inadequate protection for Travellers.

On foot of matters raised by the Irish Traveller Movement to legal stakeholders and to European and UN Treaty bodies, there is some redress of matters.

The secondment in the Legal Aid Board in 2021 of one solicitor to initiate training for legal staff in the service and to examine and make more accessible the service to Travellers, was welcome. A formal Traveller advisory committee and an implementation plan is due on the scope and long-term vision of the Board vis a vis integrating a whole of service approach for Travellers, where there is substantial need, and it is hoped the planned Ministerial Review will inform a broader revision of practices, processes and barriers in the scheme.

For further media information or to arrange an interview please contact Jacinta Brack, or at 087 27 44791

  • Membership of the Review Group:
1.Retired Chief Justice, Frank Clarke (Chair)
2.Mr. Thomas O’Mahony – Legal Aid Board nominee
3.Ms. Sara Phelan SC – Bar of Ireland nominee
4.Ms. Áine Hynes  – Law Society nominee
5.Mr. Bernard Joyce – Director of the Irish Traveller Movement
6.Mr. Liam Coen – Department of Justice nominee
7.Professor Niamh Hourigan – Sociologist and VP of Academic Affairs – Mary Immaculate College, Limerick 
8.Mr. Tom O’Malley – Senior Lecturer in Law, NUI Galway
9.Professor Frances Ruane – Economist and former Director of the ESRI
10.Ms. Eilis Barry – Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC)
11.Department of Public Expenditure and Reform nominee – name TBC