Guest piece by Jim Winters on the importance of the PILA Pro Bono Referral Scheme to the work of a national voluntary organisation: The case of Inclusion Ireland

Inclusion Ireland is a national voluntary organisation advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities. Established in 1961, Inclusion Ireland campaigns for changes in laws, policies, attitudes and practices that discriminate and marginalised persons with disabilities.

Over the years, Inclusion Ireland has been the leading campaigning organisation for the reform of the law as it relates to person with disabilities. Inclusion Ireland has campaigned for the introduction of rights-based legislation for persons with disabilities, the reform of law as it relates to decision-making, sexual offences, voting rights, victims’ rights and hate crime. We have also campaigned for the reform of health and personal social services for persons with disabilities.

We continue to call on Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRD). Remarkably, Ireland remains the only EU Member State yet to ratify the Convention.

As well as our public policy advocacy, a core feature of Inclusion Ireland’s work is our information, advice and advocacy support service. Our information line processed over 1,200 enquires in 2015.  Although we don’t provide legal advice, our enquiry service frequently deals with enquiries about the law.

PILA’s Pro Bono Referral Scheme, which connects social justice organisations with free legal expertise, has been invaluable resource to Inclusion Ireland.

Law reform

Inclusion Ireland often requires independent advice on the law. As a charity with limited resources we are reliant on the goodwill and generosity of legal professionals to provide independent legal opinion and advice.

Over the years, PILA has become an integral resource to us. It has matched our needs with the interests and expertise of a range of legal practitioners. We have received expert advice on a range of existing and proposed legislation as they relate to persons with disabilities. These advices have covered the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015; The Criminal Evidence Act 1992; the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012; The Disability Act 2005 and the Electoral Acts 1992 and 1996.

Through the Pro Bono Referral Scheme we have received independent legal advice on the use of seclusion and restraint on children with disabilities, the application of the long-stay charges on persons with disabilities living in the community and the use of surveillance in residential care settings.


What is unique about the Pro Bono Referral Scheme is that organisations can use it to obtain legal advice on governance issues and legal obligations and duties. Inclusion Ireland has received crucial advice on development of its internal protocols for dealing with public enquires and in the review of its data protection polices and procedures.

Wills Clinic

Another collaboration between Inclusion Ireland and PILA involved the hosting of a clinics for members interested in creating a will.

This project emerged following a call by PILA for expressions of interest from civil society organisations to collaborate on a project with the legal team in LinkedIn. Inclusion Ireland approached PILA with our idea of a legal information clinic for persons with disabilities on making a will – a very common enquiry from persons with disabilities and parents. Mason Hayes & Curran were invited to the partnership providing further richness to the project, and Cathy Smith BL was engaged to draw up guidance on how to take instructions from a person with an intellectual disability. The legal clinic was hugely beneficial in assisting a number of people with drafting wills and answering often complex questions around the law as it relates to persons with impaired capacity.


Inclusion Ireland has also used independent legal advice to inform our various submission to the government and public bodies.

In recent years, we have made submissions to various Oireachtas committees on a range of issues including the operation of the Disability Act 2005, the provision of advocacy services to person with disabilities, the provisions of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 and on key priorities and challenges facing Ireland in complying with its obligations under internal human rights law.

Inclusion Ireland has also called on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for an inquiry into the situation of person with disabilities in institutional care.

Inclusion Ireland was part of the civil society coalition received by the UN Committee which examined Ireland under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2014. 

The PILA Pro Bono Referral Scheme has directly and indirectly informed all of this work. Without the Scheme and the dedication and commitment of its practitioners, the work and achievements of Inclusion Ireland would be all the lesser.

A final word must go the staff of PILA and FLAC. Over the years, their support and guidance has been unstinting.


After 8 years, Jim is today leaving his role as Advocacy and Rights Officer with Inclusion Ireland. We at PILA will miss him dearly, but with every best wish to the future!



Sustaining Partners