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  • flac NewsI S S N 0 7 9 1 4 1 4 8 l V O L U M E 1 7 l N U M B E R 1 l J A N U A R Y - M A R C H 2 0 0 7

    The Challenge of Change

    FLACs call to politicians 2007I n light of the forthcoming generalelections, FLAC is calling on politi-cians to examine a few key pointsthat will help create a more just andequal Ireland.

    In the run-up to the elections as oftime of writing, no date has been set butthey are widely expected to take placein late May FLAC has prepared a posi-tion paper on issues that the organisa-tion believes are of crucial importanceto Irish society. In particular, theseissues are fundamental for those whohave been marginalised and made extravulnerable through the denial of accessto justice. FLAC has been asking all themajor opposition parties to considerincluding these issues in their policiesand programmes for government.

    The recommendations revolve aroundone central issue access to justice forall people in Ireland while focusing ona number of areas in particular. FLAChas asked politicians to promote thefundamental human right of access tojustice and has pointed out inequalityand discrimination in the law aroundcivil legal aid, consumer debt and creditlaw and social welfare law that have a particularly damaging effect on

    vulnerable groups of people.

    Recognition of the right of accessto justiceWhile it is a fundamental and interna-tionally recognised human right,enshrined in our own constitution and inEU law and policy, access to justice is notalways well acknowledged or respectedin Irish governmental planning which isa short-sighted and, in the long-term,costly policy mistake. It can lead not onlyto societal injustice, but to greater socialexclusion as law become more distancedfrom people who cannot afford to accessit. Marginalised and disadvantaged com-munities historically do not or cannotaccess lawyers and legal mechanisms inthe ways open to more privileged sec-tors of the community.

    Improvement of Civil Legal AidFLAC also raised the continued inequali-ties in access to legal services. Civil LegalAid, as opposed to criminal legal aid, isstill not available for many who need it inorder to vindicate their right of access tojustice. The state body responsible, theLegal Aid Board, does not receive thefunding it needs to provide the servicethat is required and many people do notknow about the service that is or

    should be on offer. Some importantareas of law are statutorily excludedfrom the state scheme while there is anoverwhelming emphasis on family lawalmost to the exclusion of all other areasof civil law where there is substantialunmet legal need. It is unfair that a per-son can get legal services for some legalproblems, but not others.

    Reform of debt enforcementproceduresAs well as warning that there are still gapsin the laws on consumer credit, FLAC ishighlighting the deficits in legislationaround debt enforcement. While it haswidely been acknowledged that con-sumer debt is a growing national prob-lem, underlined by the stark rise in thenumber, profile and amount of indebt-edness of clients of the Money Adviceand Budgeting Service (MABS) and callsto FLACs telephone line and advicecentres, the legal system in relation todebt enforcement remains unchanged in the words of FLACs senior policyresearcher Paul Joyce on a recent RTEPrime Time programme, a 19th centu-ry debt enforcement procedure in a21st century consumer credit market.

    (continued on back page)

    F R E E L E G A L A D V I C E C E N T R E S

  • flac News Vol. 17, No. 1

    F L A C N E W S l J A N U A R Y - M A R C H 2 0 0 722

    iinn tthhiiss eeddiittiioonn......The Challenge of Change: FLACscall to politicians 2007 1 & 16

    KAL case - SupremeCourt appeal lodged 2

    FLAC takes pensioners case to Europe 3

    New legal informationleaflets available 3

    Interculturalism - An Integration Approach 4

    Restore Universal Child Benefit! 5

    Athy womens network launch 5

    One Family: Children invisible in IrishFamily Law proceedings 6-7

    Lydia Foy case starts again 8

    Proposed new legal aid arrangementsin childcare proceedings 9

    Legal aid exclusions 9

    TCD student seminar on Travellersand Public Interest Litigation 10

    Remembering Dave Ellis 11

    Dealing with vulnerable clients - law reform in sight? 12-13

    Amicus curiae seminar 13

    A letter from India 14-15

    FLAC News is published quarterlyby Free Legal Advice Centres Ltd.,13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1.

    Editing & Layout: Yvonne Woods

    Contributors: Noeline Blackwell,Michael Farrell, Paul Joyce, EdelHackett, Jackie Heffernan, CatherineHickey, John McDaid, ElizabethMitrow, Kensika Monshengwo,Marcela Rodriguez-Farrelly, RitikaVaderaa,Yvonne Woods

    ISSN 07914148

    Photos: Irish Independent, KALInitiative, Peter Kwasnik, One Family,Printwell, Derek Speirs, RitikaVaderaa

    The views of individual contributorsdo not necessarily represent theviews of FLAC.

    Appeal to Supreme Court lodged for recognition of same-sex marriage

    Drs Katherine Zappone and AnnLouise Gilligan lodged theirAppeal to the Supreme Courton 22 February 2007 on the groundsthat their High Court case for recogni-tion of their Canadian marriage waswrongly decided.

    They are hopeful that the SupremeCourt case could be heard before theend of 2007.

    We believe that it is in our interest andin the public interest to have this issueclarified in the highest court of the land,Drs Zappone and Gilligan stated.

    In her High Court judgment on theircase, Ms. Justice Elizabeth Dunne foundthat the Irish Constitution meant thatmarriage was to be confined to personsof the opposite sex. She also found thatthe refusal to permit same-sex couplesto marry in Ireland did not breach theEuropean Convention on Human Rights.During and following the High Courthearing, some of the main points madeby the plaintiffs were:

    8The constitution is a living docu-ment, which is interpreted in lightof social change. Thus the constitu-tion is open to new interpretation.

    8Since the adoption of theConstitution there has been therecognition and scientific acknowl-edgment of the normalcy of homo-

    sexual identity. This is independentof any perceived need for a socialconsensus on the meaning of mar-riage.

    8That the right to marry is a person-al right which derives from Article40.1.3 of the Constitution TheState guarantees in its laws torespect, and as far as practicable, byits laws to defend and vindicate thepersonal rights of the citizen aswell as being derived from Article41 (The Family).

    8The institution of marriage shouldinclude same sex couples, becauseof the personal right to marry, andinherent nature of the institution ofmarriage itself. There is no identifi-able harm to marriage if same sexcouples are allowed to marry.

    Writing in the Irish Times following theHigh Court Case, Ursula Kilkelly, SeniorLecturer in Law at University CollegeCork, stated that the judgment did notaddress the issues at the heart of thecase. In particular, she said, it offered noclear evidence of what legitimate aim isbeing served by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, and more-over, whether excluding them from mar-riage is a proportionate way of achievingthat aim in all circumstances.

    Edel HackettKAL Initiative

    Phot

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    L In

    itiat

    ive Drs

    KatherineZappone parenLparenand AnnLouiseGilligan parenRparen

  • F L A C N E W S l J A N U A R Y - M A R C H 2 0 0 7 33

    FLAC and the InternationalFederation of Human Rights(FIDH) have taken the first evercomplaint against Ireland on an eco-nomic/social welfare issue under theRevised European Social Charter. TheCharter is the economic and socialequivalent of the European Conventionon Human Rights and its implementa-tion by member states is monitored bythe European Committee on SocialRights.

    The complaint is over theGovernments refusal to extend thefree travel scheme for people over 66to Irish pension holders who are notresident in Ireland during their periodicvisits to this country.

    The free travel scheme was introducedin 1967 for all holders of Irish old agepensions. Over the years it was extend-ed to cover other persons over 66 liv-ing in Ireland but it was always inextri-cably linked to the Irish old age pensionand free travel passes were given auto-matically to recipients of the Irish oldage pension on reaching 66. However,people who have paid pension contribu-

    tions and are in receipt of Irish contrib-utory pensions, but who live abroad, areexcluded from the scheme when theyreturn on holiday or for family visits etc.This is a significant grievance, especiallyfor Irish pensioners who live in Britain,many of whom are in poor circum-stances and cannot afford the cost ofinternal travel here on top of the fare toIreland. It is Government policy toencourage emigrants and non-citizenswho have lived in Ireland to return tovisit family and friends and the 2002Report of the Taskforce on Emigrantscalled as a matter of urgency for thefree travel scheme to be extended toinclude them.

    The Government has argued that if theyextended the free travel scheme to Irishsenior citizens living abroad, they wouldhave to extend it to all senior citizens inthe EU, which would be bankrupt thepublic transport system. However, anEU Commission spokesman saidrecently that if the scheme was extend-ed to holders of Irish contributory pen-sions, regardless of nationality, thatwould not cause any problems.

    The FLAC complaint was filed inFebruary last. Complaints under theSocial Charter must be lodged througha recognised international trade unionor NGO, so the Paris-based FIDHjoined with FLAC to lodge it and hasprovided FLAC with valuable assistanceand advice about the process. TheCommittee on Social Rights