25 February 2019
A better and more comprehensive system of legal aid, as well as securing the availability of legal aid for cases where none is available, is required to begin to meet the scale of unmet legal need in Ireland. That’s according to FLAC, which welcomed President of Ireland Michael D Higgins to its new head office at Dorset Street Upper in Dublin 1 to officially open the new facility.
The opening coincides with FLAC’s 50th anniversary, which it will mark throughout 2019. FLAC was established in Dublin in 1969 by law students David Byrne, Denis McCullough, Vivian Lavan and Ian Candy, who were looking to use their legal knowledge to provide advice and information to those who could not afford the fees involved.
In his address this afternoon, President Higgins paid tribute to FLAC's work promoting universal access to legal aid. He said: “We know that a right to justice is fundamental to human rights protection, a primary element of an individual’s entitlement as an equal citizen of any state. It is simply not acceptable, in a state that claims to be a democracy, that the most vulnerable section of our society is unable to access our legal system or is prevented from doing so in a timely manner. That is a situation which damages the very fabric of our society, entrenching and exacerbating inequality. At the very roots of democracy lies a respect for all citizens and a refusal to foster a culture of privilege and advantage for those who can afford it. If we are to achieve a Republic in its fullest sense, both institutional and experiential, it must be founded on a profound spirit of generous humanity and a necessary inclusiveness.
“It is such a spirit that led to the establishment of FLAC fifty years ago and has seen it grow and develop to an organisation that today provides legal advice and information directly through sixty-six clinics across the country. The demand for FLAC’s services continues to increase and I was most impressed to learn that, in 2018, you provided legal information or advice to 25,238 members of the public.”
Chairperson of FLAC, Peter Ward SC said: “We are particularly pleased that President Michael D Higgins has kindly agreed to open our new offices. President Higgins has made inclusion and the achievement of equality one of the core tenets of his Presidency. These are values that FLAC shares and have been at the heart of our 50 years of championing legal aid and are foundational in our ongoing work to achieve equal access to justice.”
“The move to the new FLAC building, situated on the site of the birthplace of Irish playwright Seán O’Casey, has been facilitated by the generous support of Atlantic Philanthropies. It provides an opportunity for FLAC to be a centre of legal innovation and creativity, to celebrate FLAC’s achievements, history and vision for the future.”
Since its establishment, FLAC has used strategic litigation to effect change. Last year it dealt with over 25,000 requests for legal information and advice to its telephone information line and advice clinics. Housing and homelessness have continued to dominate its recent case load, with other issues such as privacy emerging. It is also concerned about access to justice for disadvantaged groups, such as members of the Traveller and Roma communities, and it is seeking to make the courts more accessible for people with disabilities and lay litigants.
Speaking at the opening, Chief Executive of FLAC, Eilis Barry said: “FLAC marks its 50th anniversary this year and 50 years on access to justice is still unattainable for some groups and individuals in our society. Access to justice includes access to the courts, which are an essential part of democracy and the rule of law and the Courts and the Legal Aid Board need to be adequately resourced.
“We are proud of the work that FLAC and its squad of volunteers have done for the last 50 years in seeking to establish a comprehensive system of civil legal aid. However, our staff and volunteers cannot begin to meet the current legal need we encounter on a daily basis.
“The scale of unmet legal need we encounter shows that we need a better and more comprehensive system of legal aid, with shorter waiting times, improvements to the means test and more realistic allowances. We also need to fill the current gaps in the system: at the moment there is no legal aid for employment/equality claims before the Workplace Relations Commission, no matter how complex the issue is or how vulnerable the claimant may be. We also have been advocating to ensure that legal aid is available for people facing evictions from their family homes.”
FLAC’s 50th anniversary celebrations will continue throughout the year, including the Access to Justice conference, which will be held in May, Details of our future events will be announced closer to the time.
Contact: David O’Donnell / Joanne Ahern, DHR Communications. Tel: 01-4200580 / 086-1081139 / 087-9881837.
Notes for Editors:
About FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres):
FLAC is a 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.
FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250) and free legal advice through its network of volunteer evening advice centres – more at www.flac.ie/help/.
FLAC is an Independent Law Centre that takes on cases where this is in the public interest. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues, including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. FLAC operates the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) which seeks to engage the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change.
Timeline of key FLAC casework and campaigns:
1969 FLAC is established by four law students with the immediate aim of providing free legal advice to those who cannot afford it and opens in the offices of Saint Vincent de Paul on Mountjoy Square.
1974 Within five years FLAC has eight centres in Dublin and has taken on over 8,000 cases. The threat to withdraw its services leads to the Government to form a working party on legal aid.
1975 The first community law centre, Coolock Community Law Centre (now Community Law & Mediation Northside) is established.
1976 FLAC engages in significant litigation with cases such as The State (Healy) v Donoghue which establishes the right to criminal legal aid, and C v C which dealt with family law remedies including a wife’s entitlement to a beneficial share in the family home.
1977 The Government committee on legal aid publishes the Pringle Report with recommendations that reflect FLAC’s blueprint of civil legal aid in Ireland.
1979 In Airey v Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights finds that Ireland has not guaranteed effective access to the courts as a result of its failure to provide legal assistance to Josey Airey in her judicial separation proceedings.
1985 FLAC establishes its first Welfare Rights Centres which have a focus on social welfare and employment law.
1992 FLAC is involved in a series of cases seeking equal treatment for married women in social welfare, pursuant to Directive 79/7/EE, three of which are referred to the European Court of Justice. FLAC takes the largest representative action in the history of the State acting on behalf of 1,800 married women claiming arrears of social welfare payments.
2003 FLAC publishes its report ‘An End Based on Means?’ which criticises existing procedures for dealing with debt enforcement as outdated and confrontational.
2009 FLAC established PILA, the Public Interest Law Alliance, to develop public interest law in Ireland.
2011 The High Court decides in Gabriel v Financial Services Ombudsman that it is not a legal requirement for a Hirer to pay up front any monies owed to end a Hire Purchase agreement under the Consumer Credit Act 1995.
2014 FLAC produces a report, ‘Redressing the Imbalance’, on the need for more robust rules to govern the provision of consumer credit and complaints mechanisms against financial service providers.
2015 After nearly 20 years of litigation and campaigning, the Gender Recognition Act 2015 is introduced. Lydia Foy receives her long awaited birth certificate in her female gender, following the first Declaration of Incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights in Ireland.
2017 FLAC secures a number of significant outcomes in cases involving social welfare, direct provision, debt and homelessness. The High Court awards compensation to a woman and child in Direct Provision for the excessive delay in determining her application for subsidiary protection resulting in a loss of child benefit. It also brings the first cases of discrimination by a landlord for refusal of the Housing Assistance Payment to an existing tenant.
2018 The financial contribution to civil legal aid for victims of domestic violence in the district court is abolished following a successful campaign by FLAC.
2019 In its 50th year President of Ireland Michael D Higgins opens FLAC’s new headquarters at 85/86 Upper Dorset Street.
A graphic of FLAC’s 50th Anniversary timeline is available to download here.