FLAC has launched Ireland’s only dedicated Traveller Legal Service. Supported by The Community Foundation for Ireland, and in cooperation with a steering group made up of representation from the national Traveller organisations, it aims to empower Travellers and Traveller groups to engage with the law as a means of combating discrimination and advancing the rights of Travellers in Irish Society.
Travellers experience poor life outcomes across a range of indicators and experience one of the highest levels of discrimination in Irish society.
The Community Foundation for Ireland had been working with a steering group made up of Traveller organisations on the establishment of a dedicated legal Traveller service. FLAC worked with the Traveller Steering Group on the design of the service and The Community Foundation for Ireland has agreed to fund this initiative which comprises a full-time solicitor, Christopher McCann for three years. Referrals to the Service will come through national and local Traveller organisations.
Maria Joyce, National Traveller Women’s Forum Co-ordinator said, “The legal system plays a key role in the promotion and protection of equality and human rights for all. However, given the levels of racism, discrimination and inequality experienced by Travellers full enjoyment of these rights often requires that they are enforced and clarified by the Courts to ensure they are effective. I welcome the development of this service which we hope will lead to increased access to legal Justice for Travellers.
Eilis Barry, FLAC Chief Executive, said, ‘'FLAC is delighted to work with the Steering group on the establishment of this much needed dedicated legal service for the Traveller Community. The project recognises that the law can be a tool to protect and enforce rights, access to justice should result in better life outcomes in terms of accommodation, and better educational and health outcomes.
It is anticipated that the major issues that the service will deal with will be about access to housing, access to emergency housing and discrimination claims. With limited resources available, there will be an emphasis on taking cases that will have impact - e.g. Failure of local authorities to draw down funding for accommodation and implement Traveller Accommodation programmes, access to emergency accommodation. There is good protective legislation there and we will be trying to enforce that. However legislation can also be used oppressively to deny rights and the legislation on evictions and criminal trespass will also be a focus of the service.”
Martin Collins from Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre said, “The legal system is an essential part of an overall strategy in the promotion and protection of a Travellers equality and human rights."
The project will have an educational and advocacy role as well, with solicitor Christopher McCann preparing educational materials for the Traveller groups and advocating with the legal aid board to provide representation to Travellers.
"FLAC is very grateful to the Community Foundation of Ireland for their support for this initiative. The long-term aim of the project is to persuade the State to provide such a service. The Legal Aid Board need to be resourced so it can take on housing and discrimination claims", according to Ms. Barry.