On 1 October, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee launched the FLAC 2019 Annual Report. Speaking at 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:
FLAC Casework highlights from 2019 include:
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.
‘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.
Click here to read the report.