Lack of legal aid depriving people from ethnic minorities of their rights, FLAC tells UN

Lack of legal aid depriving people from ethnic minorities of their rights, FLAC tells UN

Eilis Barry

The lack of legal aid for racial discrimination and harassment claims in Ireland is depriving people from ethnic minority backgrounds of their rights, FLAC will tell UN experts today.

Eilis Barry, chief executive of the legal rights group, is giving evidence in Geneva to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The committee is hearing from a range of civil society organisations on how the human rights of people from various ethnic and minority backgrounds in Ireland are being realised.

Among these, FLAC will be highlighting the need to make the State civil legal aid scheme more accessible and the introduction of equality mechanisms.

Speaking ahead of the UN briefing, Ms Barry said: “Civil legal aid is a gatekeeper right - it unlocks access to other basic rights that promote and protect people. In Ireland there are substantial barriers to this vital mechanism.

“At present, there is no legal aid for claims of harassment and discrimination, including claims of discrimination in access to education, housing, goods and services and in social welfare appeals no matter how difficult, complex or sensitive these claims may be and no matter how little resources a person claiming harassment of discrimination may have.”

FLAC is calling on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to prescribe the Workplace Relations Commission and the Social Welfare Appeals Office as designated bodies for the purposes of providing legal aid.

The rights group is also concerned the lack of availability of legal representation in these types of cases means that many Travellers, Roma, persons of African origin and other ethnic minorities cannot present their cases of discrimination and harassment, depriving them of equality before the law and the right to equal treatment before Tribunals.

FLAC has also called for clarity as to whether the Legal Aid Board can provide legal aid in cases involving housing and homelessness due to an exemption in relation to “disputes concerning rights and interests in or over land”.

The Legal Aid Board takes the general view that eviction proceedings constitute “a dispute concerning rights or interests over land” and are for the most part excluded from the remit of the civil legal aid scheme.

Because of this, Travellers encounter difficulties accessing civil legal aid for forced evictions and in relation to housing and homelessness.

FLAC will also today highlight its concerns regarding current anti-discrimination legislation and its recommendations on the need for adequate remedies in relation to hate speech and racial profiling.

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