flacNewsI S S N 0 7 9 1 4 1 4 8 l V O L U M E 2 1 l N U M B E R 2 l A P R I L - J U N E 2 0 1 1
Not only does the currentrecession cost jobs and money,it also creates enormousanxiety and uncertainty. As FLACsannual report for 2010 published on 2June 2011 shows, many of those whocontact us for information or advicetell us that the dread of the unknownfuture is as substantial a challenge asthe actual real events that bring them toseek information or advice at all.
One of the main functions of FLACsservices is to give people the informa-tion and advice that they need tounderstand their problem and tonegotiate the legal and technical stepsinvolved in dealing with it. While thiswill not make a debt or a threat of legalaction go away, it does increase apersons power to act. Equally, legaljargon itself can be intimidating until it isexplained in more straightforwardlanguage. This is why in our report weidentify with pride the contributionmade by FLAC in providing informationand advice to people through ourvolunteer lawyers based in some 85evening centres throughout the coun-try during 2010, as well as providinglegal information over the phone andthrough the website.
FLACs telephone information line, oursecond-tier services, our website andour clinics around the country allprovided support and information totens of thousands of people, including
F R E E L E G A L A D V I C E C E N T R E S
WWhhaatt ddoo yyoouu ccuutt wwhheenn ccuuttsshhaavvee ttoo bbee mmaaddee??
Commissioner Hammarberg Follow-Up Visit
10,967 queries to our centres beingrecorded in 2011.
While family law remained the largestarea of enquiry, making up 30% of allcalls, there was a significant increase inthe number of debt-related questions an area which has seen an increase of400% in the last three years. FLAC hadwarned of the dangers of widespread
credit and light-touch regulation as farback as 2003. Unfortunately thosepredictions have now been validated.Despite the scale and complexity of thedifficulties, FLAC continued to seek tomake positive proposals for effectiveaction. During 2010, FLACs represent-ation on the governments ExpertGroup on Mortgage Arrears and
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, whospoke at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin on June 1st.
See article on page 6.
Continued on page 4
flac News | Vol. 21, No. 2
F L A C N E W S l A P R I L J U N E 2 0 1 122
iinn tthhiiss eeddiittiioonn......Time for action in Foy case 2
A Perspective on the Ombudsman for Children 3
What do you cut when cuts must be made 4
Minister Lynch launches Your Rights Right Now 5
Hammarberg follow-up visit / JointMobile Group visit FLAC 6
Irelands first Report to the UNCommittee Against Torture 7
A national strategy on over-indebtedness 8-9
Waiting for civil legal aid 9
Focus on FLAC: Roisin WebbFLAC National Council 10
Inside the Centre: Crumlin FLAC 11
Public Interest Law Alliance Update 12
South African Conference 13
FLAC Casework Update 14
FLAC Campaigns Update:Direct Provision Campaign andSocial Welfare update 15
FLAC Update 16
FLAC NEWS is published quarterly byFree Legal Advice Centres Ltd.,13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1.
Editors: Roisin Boyd and Aine Walsh
Layout and Printing: Printwell Co-operative, Dublin 1
Contributors: Amina Adanan, NoelineBlackwell, Saoirse Brady, Emer Butler, EoinCoffey, Larry Donnelly, Sinead Egan, MichaelFarrell, Juliette Hopkins, Jo Kenny, GillianKernan, Paul Joyce, Colin Lenihan, LianneMurphy, Aoife OBrien, Zse Varga, KirstyWatterson, Kim Watts and Manus de Barra.
ISSN 07914148The views of individual contributors do notnecessarily represent the views of FLAC.
It is now one year on since theGovernment dropped itsappeal in the Lydia Foy case,taken by FLAC, and acceptedthat Ireland is in breach of theEuropean Convention on HumanRights for failing to legallyrecognise transgender persons.And it is nearly four years sincethe High Court first made thatruling. But there is still nochange in the law.
Council of Europe Human RightsCommissioner Thomas Hammarbergon a recent visit to Ireland describedthe Governments failure to changethe law as unacceptable. He said theFoy case was widely discussed acrossEurope, where Ireland was one ofonly a handful of countries that didnot give legal recognition totransgender persons.
It is believed that CommissionerHammarberg will write to the Gov-ernment after his visit and set out anumber of issues that need to beaddressed, including transgenderrights.
The previous Government set up aninterdepartmental Gender Recogni-tion Advisory Group in May 2010 toprepare draft legislation but it has stillnot reported at the time of going topress. This is believed to be holdingup Government action on the issuebut Social Protection Minister JoanBurton has given a strong com-mitment to introduce legislationwithin the shortest possible time-frame when the Committee reports.
The UK has had a Gender Recogni-tion Act since 2004 and legislationhere would bring the Republic intoline with Northern Ireland and GreatBritain. But there is also an oppor-tunity to remedy some flaws that haveemerged in the UK legislation,
particularly the requirement thattransgender persons who were mar-ried in their former gender mustdivorce before getting recognition,even if both parties want to staytogether. Commissioner Hammar-berg has suggested that Ireland hasthe opportunity to bring in legislationthat could act as a model for othercountries.
Hopefully all parties in the Oireachtaswill support this legislation when it isbrought forward and give long over-due recognition and relief to this verymarginalised community.
Commissioner Hammarberg madeanother important point in his com-ments on the Foy case: currently theEuropean Court of Human Rightsfaces a major crisis because of thehuge numbers of cases it has to dealwith every year. It is generally agreedthat the only solution is for nationalcourts to enforce the EuropeanConvention directly in each memberstate. The Irish Government is astrong supporter of that position. Butthat means that when the Irish courtshold that the Government is in breachof the Convention, it has an obligationto act promptly to remedy the prob-lem. So far it has not done so in thiscase. It is high time it did.
Time for action in Foy case
The Ombudsman forChildrens Office (OCO)recently published achildrens rights analysis of 10key investigations undertaken bythe Office over the last numberof years. The research under-taken by Dr Ursula Kilkelly,Senior Lecturer at the Faculty ofLaw at University College Cork considered whether and to whatextent the actions of the publicbodies examined in each of theinvestigations met Irelands chil-drens rights obligations, partic-ularly those flowing from the UNConvention on the Rights of theChild and the European Conven-tion on Human Rights.
The investigations covered a widerange of issues, including the provisionof special care and high support ser-vices; school transport for a child withspecial needs; the death of a child incare; tenancy determination by a localauthority; home tuition for a childwith autism; the provision of HSEservices to a young mother and herbaby, both of whom were in care; andsupports provided to a child withspecial needs in foster care.
The impetus for this work came froma desire to align more closely thedifferent functions of the officeunder the Ombudsman for ChildrenAct 2002. The 2002 Act provides thatthe Ombudsman for Children mayundertake an investigation into anyaction by or on behalf of a public bodywhere it appears to the Ombudsmanfor Children that the action has ormay have adversely affected the child,and where the action was or may havebeen the result of maladministration.
The Ombudsman for Children is alsoempowered by the 2002 Act to pro-mote the rights and welfare ofchildren by advising Ministers of the
Government on the developmentand coordination of policy relating tothe rights of children, and also byencouraging public bodies to developpolicies, practices and proceduresdesigned to promote childrens rightsand their welfare. In carrying out thislatter function, the Ombudsman forChildren is guided by Irelands obligat-ions under international human rightsinstruments to which the State isparty.
However, the failure on the part ofpublic bodies to act in compliancewith the States international child-rens rights obligations is not a groundon which the Ombudsman forChildren can find fault with theiractions in the context of its statutoryinvestigation function.
The research highlighted a number ofoverarching themes common to manyof the investigations undertaken bythe OCO and the challenges faced inmainstreaming childrens rights inpublic administration and decision-making. One of those themes was theabsence of any routine considerationof Irelands human rights obligations inframing policy or delivering servicesto children. It was also clear that childimpact analyses, broadly conceived,did not feature in decision-making bypublic bodies in the cases that wereinvestigated.
This links with the wider debatearound the need to amend the IrishConstitution to give greater pro-tection to childrens rights. Much ofthe discussion on this issue hasfocused quite reasonably on
important decisions of the Courtsthat touch on the issue of howchildrens best interests are deter-mined and how their rights areconsidered in complex cases whereother rights are engaged and balancedagainst them.
However, the Ombudsman forChildrens interventions on the ques-tion of amending the Constitutionhave emphasised the importance ofconsidering the impact of such achange on the Oireachtas, Govern-ment Depa