PEOPLE who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor are waiting up to 11 months in Tipperary and up to six months in Cork city before they can get a first appointment with a legal representative.
In Tallaght, there is a 10-month wait to see a solicitor if you can’t afford to pay private fees.
There are up to 22 Free Legal Aid centres around the country and all have reported a huge increase in demand over the past three years due to rising unemployment, sharp drops in incomes and a recruitment freeze in the public sector.
On May 1, there were 3,339 people waiting for appointments with FLAC compared to 2,228 in January last year — an increase of 67% over nearly 18 months.
In response to a parliamentary question from Laois-Offaly Fianna Fáil TD, Barry Cowen, the Department of Justice said that FLAC centres prioritise cases which require urgent help such as domestic violence, child protection and child abduction complaints.
“About 15% of applications fall within this category. In addition, a significant number of cases involving representation before the District Court for family matters are effectively prioritised by being referred to private solicitors for the purpose of providing a service,” said Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
“Efforts are being made to reconfigure how the Board provides services and to deploy resources wherever possible to meet priority demands, but there are a number of locations where there are acute service delivery problems. The Board has taken and is taking to minimise the impact of the delays on the persons experiencing them,” said Mr Shatter.
Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman, deputy Barry Cowen said: “Applicants in almost half of the centres are waiting for at least 6 months to get a legal aid appointment with some people even waiting up to 10 and 11 months. These are people who are already under huge pressure as they face the prospect of going through the courts. The fact that they have to wait so long to simply get an appointment only compounds their difficulties. It is simply unacceptable”.
These steps include increasing the use of private solicitors for family law; providing a short half hour appointment with a solicitor for applicants waiting longer than four months and developing a new case management system for the purpose so that work can be completed more efficiently.
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