FLAC Examining Access to Justice in the Draft Programme for Government
3 July 2020
FLAC welcomes many of the policy initiatives set out in the draft Programme for Government. As a human rights organisation we especially welcome those initiatives that will have a positive impact on the lives of those who are marginalised or vulnerable in our society, in particular, the introduction of a new social contract, anti-poverty measures and a commitment to end the inhumane system of direct provision.
FLAC’s main priority is equal access to justice, as we make our way through the crisis that is Covid-19 and the unprecedented number of people suddenly finding their livelihood and/or their health at risk, we are reminded now, more than ever that access to justice is an essential part of any decent democracy. We at FLAC hope that access to justice will be at the core of the new government. However, we believe that the Programme for Government falls short in a number of key areas.
Significant gaps remain in Ireland’s civil legal aid system, with long waiting times, extensive exclusions and a strict means test that has not been changed since 2003. These exclude many people on low incomes from accessing legal aid. Others are left without legal representation as there is no legal aid for social welfare or employment issues in complex cases. We want to ensure legal aid is available to those who are marginalised and those who are facing discrimination such as victims of racism, homeless people attempting to secure housing or people experiencing sexual harassment at work.
We welcome the commitment on Courts reform, however this must include making court forms and procedures more accessible and to cater for the needs of lay litigants and people with disabilities. In terms of legislative reform, FLAC emphasises the need for effective remedies for hate crime, hate speech and racial profiling. The Equal Status Acts need to be amended to ensure that the prohibition on discrimination explicitly applies to An Garda Siochána and immigration services.
FLAC calls for the eligibility criteria for Supplementary Welfare Allowance, including for habitual residence, to be reviewed to ensure that it remains an adequate safety net for those who need it most. While we welcome the commitments on housing, it is vital that the recommendations of the Traveller Accommodation Expert Group are implemented to ensure that the housing needs of Travellers are met.
The commitment to improving the infrastructure to assist those in debt, highlights the need to implement existing policy to deal with previous indebtedness and new debt issues that will arise.
‘Citizens must have access to welfare and affordable health care, housing, education, childcare and disability services, but they must also have access to the courts and legal assistance when they need it but cannot afford it. This is fundamental to building equality in Ireland.”
– Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive
FLAC have written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, the Ministers and TDS asking that they commit to ensure a comprehensive review of civil legal aid is prioritised.
You can read our detailed response to the draft Programme for Government here