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Opening of Co-located Kilkenny Family Mediation Centre and Law Centre
Mr. Charlie Flanagan T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality
22 June 2018
I am very pleased to be here today, to officially open the new co-located Family Mediation Centre and Law Centre in Kilkenny. And I thank the Chairperson Philip O’Leary and the members of the Legal Aid Board for extending the invitation to me.
The Legal Aid Board plays such an important role in society. It provides legal aid to those who cannot afford representation and it also provide family mediation.
Since its establishment, the Legal Aid Board has been meeting the changing needs of society. In 1980, nearly 40 years ago, when the legal aid scheme was first established, there were just four law centres. By the mid-1990’s, the network had expanded to around 30 centres, including one here in Kilkenny, and the scheme was placed on a statutory footing with the enactment of the Civil Legal Aid Act in 1995.
And as the scheme expanded, the areas in which legal aid was needed expanded too. Important childcare legislation was introduced in 1991, divorce in the mid 90s. In the late 1990’s, Ireland began to see a significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum here and more recently, we have seen the passage of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, and the marriage equality referendum.
And as all these developments occurred, the legal aid board was providing services to those affected.
In addition to providing civil legal aid though, Ireland was one of the first countries to recognise that mediation, as a fully funded service, had a role to play in resolving family disputes. The service was originally established in the mid-1980’s, the Family Mediation Service was merged into the Legal Aid Board in 2011, and mediation is now seen as central to resolving family law matters, giving us the opportunity for the kind of co-located facility being opened here in Kilkenny today.
Approximately 75% of those who see civil legal aid or advice do so in relation to a family problem. Mediation has the potential to remove some of the adversity, which often characterises family breakdown situations, and for this reason alone it is something that should be supported and developed.
I am aware that, since the transfer of responsibility for mediation in 2011 to the Legal Aid Board, it has sought to develop a more integrated delivery model for mediation and legal aid services. As a first step in this regard, the Board has pursued a strategy of co-locating where possible. The Board opened its first co-located office at Jervis House, Dublin in 2016 and I understand has plans to open further offices this year. At a practical level, it makes it easier for clients to access the full range of the Board’s services in a single location, and at an organisational level, it facilitates the sharing of expertise between mediators and legal professionals.
Here in Kilkenny, the Legal Aid Board has chosen to go beyond simply the physical co-location of the two services. It has sought to fundamentally re-appraise how it delivers its service for customers. The Board is using this office here in Kilkenny as a centre of innovation in the delivery of legal aid and mediation services.
This project reflects the desire of the Legal Aid Board to respond positively to the changing needs of its clients, and to enhance the ability of the Board to effectively discharge the range of services that it provides – and I really welcome that.
I know that there are also innovations at organisational level, with closer co-operation between the Legal Aid Board and other bodies in the public and voluntary sectors that have a role in supporting those in challenging situations. I know for example that this office recently organised a networking meeting for a wide range of local service providers, including the Citizens Information Service, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, the Abhaile Scheme, Barnardos, Kilkenny Rape Crisis Centre, the National Advocacy Service, Amber Women’s Refuge, and the Good Shepherd Centre. And after the meeting, I believe the providers set up stalls and had an information afternoon for the public. I fully endorse this sort of initiative. Building local relationships among local service providers can only be of benefit to those who are in need of the services.
Many new ideas are being trialled here in Kilkenny as part of this exercise. Not every experiment will work – that is the nature of innovation. But the inherent value of this project is that those ideas which are shown to work, will in due course be rolled out across the entire Legal Aid Board office network, delivering benefits for citizens across the whole country.
So I want to thank the Legal Aid Board for taking on diversity, change and challenge. And I want to say that as a Government we will continue to support you.
It is because we recognise your value that we took great care to maintain your budget during the recession, and increase it by 28% over the 2011 – 2018 period. We recognise that you are now providing legal aid services under a number of new schemes, for example, Abhaile and International Protection, and of course last December, I also signed the statutory instrument that enables the Board to waive the financial contribution required for applicants for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court.
So we recognise you, we are grateful, and once again, I wish to express my appreciation to those who have served the Legal Aid Board, both in the past and at present, and have made it the success that it is.
I want to acknowledge all the members of the Board and the staff, in particular those working here in Kilkenny. You are leaders and innovators within the Legal Aid Board and the civil service and I wish you every success.
I wish to assure you, and the Legal Aid Board more generally of the Government’s continued support for your provision of civil legal aid and mediation services. Through that provision you reflect our commitment to access to justice for all our citizens.
Thank you very much.
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