Housing, social welfare and family law matters were the key drivers of engagement with more than 630 people in Limerick in 2018, according to the latest report from Community Law and Mediation (CLM).
The community-based law centre is the only such independent legal advice organisation based outside of Dublin. Its latest report said there had been an increase in demand in the field of education law in the Munster county last year.
Each of CLM’s two centres - in Limerick and in Coolock on Dublin’s northside - provide free legal advice clinics together with representation for the courts and tribunals in areas of law not covered by the free legal aid scheme.
The group said its free clinics in Limerick operate in each of the areas of the city identified for regeneration and to residents of other disadvantaged areas.
Housing was the dominant area in which CLM operated in the Munster city across last year, accounting for 72% of the legal cases dealt with there. Social welfare (12%) and employment law (9%) were the next most-frequently raised legal categories.
One case detailed in the report saw a client who had been on the social housing list since 2005 left without a place to stay after her relationship broke down.
The woman was assessed as homeless and provided with emergency accommodation. Shortly thereafter she refused an offer of sheltered communal accommodation as being unsuitable for her young child given the heightened levels of anti-social behaviour there. This led to her homeless designation being removed by the local council, together with her removal from the housing list, the end result of which saw the woman sleeping on her parents’ couch with her 18-month old son.
Following the intervention of CLM, which threatened the local authority with legal action, the woman was reinstated on the housing list.
A second case saw the local authority once more fall back on its position at the last moment following CLM’s legal intervention. In that case an expectant couple - the mother sleeping on a couch in a two-bed house with 10 others, the father on the floor of a caravan’s washroom - were not deemed to be homeless as they had declined emergency accommodation.
All told the group held 89 legal advice clinics in Limerick across the 12 month period, with 57 new legal advocacy and representation cases opened.
CLM dealt with the cases of more than 3,000 people across its centres in 2018, utilising a volunteer panel of 66 barristers, solicitors and mediators.
Rose Wall, the chief executive of the organisation, said that in most cases the individuals and families they deal with “have nowhere else to go for assistance”.
“CLM is clearly meeting a gap by facilitating access to justice for all, particularly those from more disadvantaged communities,” she said.
Ms Wall said that CLM had seen a “significant” increase in demand for its mediation services in 2018, enabling people to reach agreements acceptable to all sides outside of the courtroom.
The majority of those cases involved parental or other family issues, followed by community or neighbour-related cases and workplace mediation problems.
The group said it had also run an online housing law and policy course in partnership with the University of Limerick in the final three months of 2018.