26,995 received legal information/advice in 2019
30 September 2020
Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD will virtually launch the FLAC 2019 Annual Report at 12 noon on Thursday, October 1st.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Minister McEntee said,
‘The service provided by FLAC to the public and in particular to those on low incomes and in marginalised communities in our society is invaluable.’
2019 was a landmark year for FLAC as it marked the 50th anniversary of the organisation. FLAC was established in 1969 as a response to a need for equal access to justice in Irish society. Fast forward fifty years and FLAC plays a vital part in the legal community with a focus on the most vulnerable in our society, who very often may have nowhere else to turn especially during a crisis like Covid-19.
Eilis Barry, CE FLAC, stated,
‘Rights are never more important than during a pandemic when people’s livelihood can be taken from them, they fear losing their homes and when difficult personal circumstances can be exacerbated.
Covid-19 has thrown into sharp relief FLAC’s objectives; that people have a floor of basic rights and fair procedures in relation to areas like social welfare, housing, debt and employment; that people have access to information, legal advice and advocacy about those rights and that people are in a position to access those rights.’.
Key figures from 2019:
26,995 received legal information/advice in 2019
- A total of 14,526 people received basic legal advice from approximately 580 volunteer lawyers at free legal advice clinics in 72 locations. The main queries related to family and employment law.
- There were 12,469 calls to FLAC’s telephone information line in 2019.
- 130 community and voluntary groups received legal assistance through FLAC’s public interest law project PILA, from private practitioners acting pro bono.
- Detailed technical advice was supplied to Mabs in respect of their clients on 94 casefiles.
- In 2019, FLAC had 112 open casefiles. 61 of these casefiles were opened on behalf of callers to FLAC’s Roma Legal Clinic.
FLAC as an independent Law Centre continues to take on cases in the public interest i.e. cases which may have an impact beyond the individual. FLAC’s legal team took on cases, on behalf of those who experience disproportionate levels of poverty, homelessness and discrimination including members of the Roma and the Traveller communities, as borne out by the recently published survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency.
FLAC Casework highlights from 2019 include;
- A hotel was ordered to pay €5,000 to a Traveller family after it had cancelled a booking to celebrate the First Holy Communion.
- Defamation, discrimination and personal injuries proceedings, which had been initiated against Dublin Bus, on behalf of two Roma women who were ejected from a bus, were settled.
- A man who had his claim for disability allowance refused had to wait 18 months from the time of referral for investigation to oral hearing and ultimately a successful decision. During that time he was not in receipt of any social welfare payment and was dependent on charity for support.
- FLAC represented a man with literacy problems, who does not speak English, had been stopped at Dublin Airport and asked to sign a statement to the effect that he is not resident in the State and wished to withdraw his disability allowance claims. An assessed overpayment against him was reduced by approximately €85,000. This case pre-echoed the current controversy regarding the practice of airport checking PUP social welfare recipients. FLAC has long been critical of the manner in which investigations of social welfare claims are conducted by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
- FLAC initiated 10 separate judicial review cases in the area of social housing.
‘Through our dedicated Roma Clinic, we see the difficulties faced by the Roma community in terms of poverty, access to housing, access to employment and direct incidents of discrimination on a regular basis. Our casework highlights the gendered nature of the discrimination faced by the Roma Community. In particular, Roma women seem to attract particular hostility, most likely because they are easily identifiable when they wear traditional dress such as long skirts and head scarves. They often have difficulty accessing shops or barriers to employment issues simply because of who they are.’ - Sinead Lucey, Managing Solicitor at FLAC.
The Roma Community continue to struggle to access healthcare and social supports, even after they have been established in the State for considerable periods of time. Our casefiles highlight the over rigid application of the habitual residence condition and call into question the efficacy of the Supplementary Welfare System in providing a safety net.
Against a backdrop of homelessness figures in Ireland peaking in 2019, FLAC raised and continues to raise concerns that legislation is being invoked on a routine basis by local authorities, to threaten Traveller families with evictions without consultation with the families concerned and without any safeguards against arbitrary eviction including oversight by the Courts and legal aid, despite the fact that Ireland was found to be in breach of the European Social Charter in respect of this legislation in 2016.
50 years ago, FLAC was established to campaign for comprehensive legal aid and it is fitting that we made it a priority area for 2019. Our campaign continues to gather momentum; the Chief Justice at our access to Justice conference in May 2019 set out powerful arguments for resourcing the Legal Aid system; The Joint Oireachtas Committee in its review of family law supported our recommendations for a root and branch review of the legal aid system; The UN Human Rights body CERD adopted FLAC’s recommendation on extending scope of legal aid to discrimination and social welfare claims and to housing.
‘This is not an abstract ideal, comprehensive legal aid is an urgent prerequisite to a fair and accessible system that will ensure equal access to justice at a time when it is needed most.’, said Eilis Barry, CE FLAC.
Minister McEntee added
‘I am very pleased that my department was in the position, in 2019, to provide €40,000 in funding for FLAC’s Roma Clinic initiative, in addition to the €98,000 department funding towards the ongoing information, advice and advocacy work carried out by FLAC. I am delighted to launch FLAC’s 2019 Annual Report and I wish FLAC the very best in its future, valued work.’
Link to report https://www.flac.ie/publications/category/annualreports/
Notes to the editor
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres – www.flac.ie) is an independent legal and human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
2. What does FLAC do?
- Operates a legal information and referral telephone line.
- Runs a nationwide network of legal advice clinics where volunteer lawyers provide basic free legal advice.
- Is an Independent Law Centre that engages in strategic litigation and takes on cases in the public interest.
- Provides specialist legal advice to advisers in the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and in Citizens Information Services (CISs) on social welfare, personal debt and consumer credit law.
- Engages in research and advocates for policy and law reform in areas of law that most affect disadvantaged and marginalised people.
- Through Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA), operates a
Pro Bono Referral Scheme and engages the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change.
- Provides administrative, communications, statistical and legal support to the Child Care Law Reporting Project.
- Runs a Roma Legal Clinic, which began in June 2018.
- Runs a dedicated Traveller Legal Clinic, which was launched in July 2020
3. Headline statistics for FLAC information services in 2019
Statistics from Telephone Information and Referral Line
FLAC’s telephone information and referral line provided 12,469 callers with legal information in 2019.
24.1 % sought information regarding FAMILY LAW :
- 41% related to divorce and separation
- 25% concerned custody/access/ guardianship issues
- 20% Maintenance
- 10% were Domestic violence queries (which rose by 23%)
11.5% related to EMPLOYMENT LAW questions:
- 38% related to contract terms
- 14% were about dismissal
- 13% included grievance procedures
- 36% increase in the number of calls about bullying
5% were HOUSING RELATED:
4% were from LAY LITIGANTS:
- FLAC does not have the resources to provide proper assistance to lay litigants who contact us often in desperate need for assistance with complex legal issues.
Statistics from Legal Advice Clinics
In 2019, 14,526 service users attended FLAC clinics in 72 locations.
34% were FAMILY LAW queries
- 50% Divorce
- 25% Custody, access and guardianship
- 9% Domestic violence queries (up by almost 11%)
16.2% were EMPLOYMENT LAW queries
- 25% Contract
- 24% Dismissal
- 11% Discrimination
- 11% Redundancy
4. Published on the 23rd September 2020, the ‘Roma and Travellers in six countries’ Report presents findings from FRA’s 2019 survey on Roma and Travellers in Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The survey included interviews with almost 4,700 Roma and Travellers, collecting information on more than 8,200 individuals living in their households. https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2020/roma-travellers-survey