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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 732-739
 Header Item Northern Ireland Issues
 Header Item EU Funding
 Header Item Coroners Service
 Header Item Domestic Violence Policy
 Header Item Legislative Programme
 Header Item Garda Operations
 Header Item Legal Aid Applications
 Header Item Garda Station Closures

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 835 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 118 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 732-739

Northern Ireland Issues

 732. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will meet with the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group to receive a copy and a personal presentation of the report they have commissioned into the investigations carried out on both sides of the Border in connection with the 1998 Omagh bomb.  [12808/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I met representatives of the Omagh Support and Self-Help Group in July 2012 and they presented me with a copy of their report. I am in the process of finalising a detailed consideration of the matters raised by the Group in so far as they relate to this State and to the Garda Síochána. It is expected that this process will be concluded shortly and I will then communicate directly with the Omagh Group. The British Government has decided that it does not propose to hold a public inquiry into certain matters surrounding the Omagh bombing raised by the Group in their report. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has written to the Group stating that she does not believe there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing.

EU Funding

 733. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the position regarding a review of an application for ERF funding (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13812/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Pobal is responsible, on behalf of my Department, for carrying out calls for and assessing applications for ERF grants. It is open to unsuccessful applicants to seek a review of the decision on their application. A staff member from Pobal who was not involved in the original decision is assigned to undertake the review. The recommendations of the reviewer are considered by the Pobal Appraisal Sub-Committee and submitted to my Department for final decision. I can confirm that a review of the decision referred to in the Question is under way. The outcome of that review will be communicated to my Department in the near future. I am also advised that Pobal sent the applicant a copy of revised guidelines for the review process after she had already submitted a request for a review but that the only major change in these was that the time for submitting a review request was extended from 10 to 20 working days. In the light of this change, the applicant was offered the opportunity to resubmit her review request on this basis. This opportunity was declined and Pobal therefore proceeded to process the request that had been submitted. The criteria on which applications were assessed were published at the time of the call and were: capacity of the applicant; need for the project; outcomes for the target group; strategic fit; and value for money. The geographic location of the applicant was not, of itself, a criterion.

Coroners Service

 734. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will ensure a coroner's report will issue without further delay in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath. [14147/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Under the Coroners Act 1962, a Coroner is a statutory officer exercising quasi-judicial functions in relation to which he or she is independent and neither I nor my Department has any role in individual cases. However, to be of assistance, general inquiries have been made in connection with the matter raised by the Deputy and I understand that the Coroner is awaiting a Post Mortem report in this case.

Domestic Violence Policy

 735. Deputy Olivia Mitchell Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12799/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As I have indicated previously in response to questions on this issue, Ireland supports, in principle, the aims and terms of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, before putting the question of signing and ratifying the Convention to Cabinet, the legislative and administrative changes that might be required to implement the Convention must be established.Consultations with relevant Government Departments and State agencies in relation to articles of the Convention which might impact on their areas of responsibility are now being undertaken. In addition, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality have recently held public hearings to examine the issues of domestic and sexual violence with a view to compiling a report with recommendations on what measures can be put in place to reduce such violence. My Department is already considering a wide range of proposals including proposals for reform from voluntary sector organisations and the recommendations from the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee will also be considered when it becomes available. The development of these proposals will result in the consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation promised by this Government to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims.

Legislative Programme

 736. Deputy Nicky McFadden Information on Nicky McFadden Zoom on Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if there is a timeframe in place for the completion of the current review of criminal legislation on prostitution and for a policy decision to be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12803/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Deputy's question refers to the Report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on hearings and submissions on the Review of Legislation on Prostitution. The review in question is nearing completion. I recently received the advices of the Attorney General on the Joint Committee's report. I have also just received the views of the Minister for Health and these are being examined. When the review has been completed, I will bring my legislative proposals to Government for approval in the usual way. A policy decision is a matter for the Government at that stage.

Garda Operations

 737. Deputy Billy Timmins Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the information or the files that are maintained on persons (details supplied) by the Garda authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12805/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I have sought information from the Garda authorities to enable me to respond fully to the Deputy and I will write to him when this is available.

Legal Aid Applications

 738. Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter the waiting times by area for access to the Legal Aid Board. [12848/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I wish to inform the Deputy that demand for legal services from the Legal Aid Board ("the Board") has increased significantly since the downturn in the economy and this has led to an increase in waiting times. The waiting times as of 1 March 2014 are set out in the table below. Demand in 2013 was at the same level as it was in 2012 and while there was a 10% drop in demand at the general law centres in 2012 compared to 2011, nevertheless the demand for general legal services (excluding asylum) in 2011 was 93% greater than it was in 2006. The Board has not been subject to the sort of cuts to its grant-in-aid that other public service bodies have had to experience and I have been able to maintain the Board’s grant-in-aid at the same level for 2014 as it was in the previous three years.

  Nevertheless it is a challenging environment that has resulted in lengthened waiting times for those seeking legal services for matters that are not prioritised. I know that waiting times are a matter of constant concern to the Board and that it keeps them under very active review. I am also aware that the Board is constantly keeping the delivery of its services under review with a view to getting legal services to those most in need of them as quickly as possible.

  Notwithstanding the pressures on resources, the Government has further supported the Board by approving exemptions from the moratorium to enable the organisation to recruit front-line staff for direct service delivery. The Public Appointments Service concluded a solicitor recruitment competition for the Board last year from which a number of permanent appointments have been made and a number of temporary positions have also been filled.

  In September 2013 I signed into law by way of Regulations, a package of proposals from the Board for the revision of the financial eligibility and contributions provisions governing the granting of civil legal aid. The Regulations include a reduction in the capital eligibility threshold for legal services and they also include increases in the contributions payable by most persons seeking legal services. These provisions should have some impact, albeit relatively marginal, on the resources available to the Board.

  In response to the changed environment, the Board has taken steps to try and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of its legal services. Those steps include the following:

 The Board has been piloting a 'triage' approach to service delivery and this approach is operative in most of its centres at this stage. The pilot is in response to lengthening waiting times. The aim of the triage approach is that every applicant gets to see a solicitor within a period of one month for the purpose of getting legal advice. Consultations are broadly limited to 45 minutes. If the applicant requires further services they remain on the 'waiting list'. There is or has been a backlog of applicants to be seen for triage purposes, which is why it is taking time to reduce the waiting time for such an appointment to one month. Where the triage approach is operative, there is a waiting time for the triage appointment and a waiting time for the second consultation. A first review of the operation of the pilot indicated that clients were satisfied with this particular service initiative. This was because they got early access to a solicitor for advice on their legal disputes that provided clarity about the options open to them and the process through which their disputes might be resolved.

  In August 2012, the Board introduced a new case management system in its law centres. This is a 'start to end' system which will in the medium term deliver efficiencies in terms of the administration aspect as well as in relation to the delivery of the legal services. It will take time for the full benefits of this system to materialise.

  In November 2011, I transferred responsibility for the management and administration of the State funded family mediation service to the Board. A key reason for this transfer was to improve the synergies between the State funded family mediation services and the State funded civil legal aid services (most of the demand for legal services is in the area of family law). Improving the synergies will be for the benefit of the customer and will help move away from a 'litigation first' approach that may on occasion be too common. Already there are very positive signs from a pilot initiative operating in Dolphin House (where the Dublin District Family Court sits) involving the co-location of the courts and a mediation service with a legal service located there too. Similar initiatives have been introduced in Cork and Naas and are being evaluated. I know the Board is working particularly hard on promoting mediation as a meaningful option.

  While the Board's asylum-related legal services were previously funded from a separate grant, since 2012 I have funded the Board on the basis of a single 'grant in aid'. With the drop in demand for asylum, the Board has taken steps to integrate the delivery of its asylum related services into the general law centre service delivery model, thereby effectively transferring resources from the asylum area to the general legal service area where the demands have increased.

  I am aware that the Board has maintained a high level of usage of private solicitors for family law cases in the District Court. Cases in the District Court are often those that need the most immediate remedy.

 I am also aware that the Board continues to engage with other key players in the justice and legal area such as the Courts Service and the HSE (now the Child and Family Agency), with a view to trying to ensure State funded resources that impact on its area of business are used to best effect.

  I am very conscious of the difficulties that delays in accessing legal aid can give rise to. I am aware that the Board is also keenly aware of those difficulties and is working to ensure the delays are minimised to the greatest extent possible.

Waiting times as at 1 March 2014

Waiting times are given in weeks

Law CentrePart-Time CentreWaiting time for a first consultation
Further waiting time for a second consultation

(centres operating triage)
AthloneAthlone
24
9
-Mullingar
24
10
Blanchardstown -
25
n/a
Castlebar -
17
42
Cavan -
20
22
Clondalkin -
5
31
Cork North -
40
15
Cork South -
64
54
Dundalk -
16
n/a
Ennis -
23
20
Finglas -
30
6
Galway Francis St -
29
53
Galway Seville House -
12
16
Gardiner Street -
17
42
Kilkenny Carlow
3
45
-Kilkenny
3
44
Letterkenny -
18
40
Limerick -
44
n/a
Longford -
29
29
Monaghan Drogheda
17
n/a
-Monaghan
22
n/a
Montague Court -
22
n/a
Navan -
17
24
Nenagh -
4
35
Newbridge -
8
43
Personal Injuries Unit  
n/a
n/a
Portlaoise -
48
59
SligoBoyle
5
24
-Sligo
7
27
Smithfield -
44
35
Tallaght -
17
23
Tralee -
22
n/a
Tullamore -
17
n/a
Waterford -
24
n/a
Wexford -
47
7
Wicklow -
13
n/a

Garda Station Closures

 739. Deputy Michael P. Kitt Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will reconsider the policy of closing rural Garda stations in view of the reports that none of the stations have been sold and only €3,000 has been saved; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [12902/14]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As the Deputy will be aware, the closure of the stations was proposed by the Garda Commissioner in his Policing Plans for 2012 and 2013. The key objective involved was to promote the more efficient and effective deployment of resources rather than to secure modest cash savings. In this context, the Commissioner has concluded, in relation to certain stations, that Garda resources could be better deployed and more effectively used on the front line if the stations no longer had to be staffed and maintained. In making his recommendations on the closure of Garda stations, the Commissioner reviewed all aspects of An Garda Síochána's policing model, including the deployment of personnel, the utilisation of modern technologies and the overall operation of Garda stations. I fully agree with the Commissioner's conclusions in these matters. Garda stations form part of the portfolio of State properties owned and maintained by the Office of Public Works. In that context, the sale of Garda stations is a matter for that Office.


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