asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to reports (details supplied) which quoted the Legal Aid Board as saying that new applications for civil legal aid were being turned away from several law centres; the steps which are being taken to deal with this situation through the provision of additional resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Civil Legal Aid.
As I have said before, I know only too well the difficulties that are faced by the Legal Aid Board in providing legal services under the civil legal aid scheme. Those difficulties have been exacerbated in recent years by the loss without replacement of some of its professional and administrative staff. I have the matter under consideration at present and I am hopeful that something can be done to enable the board to alleviate the problem.
Would the Minister agree that the chaos which now exists in free legal aid services is a matter of constant all-party concern in this House and that he must act without delay? Is he aware, for example, that the Aston Quay centre in Dublin which was to have been working by four solicitors now has only two solicitors with the same complement of work, with the result that their doors are closed? Is he aware that the Gardiner Street centre is not in a position to indicate when new cases can be taken on, that the Tallaght centre has a minimum delay of two months, Ormond Quay a minimum delay of seven weeks and that the two centres in Cork are not taking on any new case at all? Is there not an urgent need for the Minister to address staffing and funding levels in the centres?
I know that the scheme is in difficulty but the board, like every other agency with staffing and expenditure obligations, have had to curtail the services they provide. We need to look at the board's position to see if anything can be done within the constraints of Government policy to alleviate the position.That is what I am in the process of doing.
That is a very welcome affirmation by the Minister that something is being done, but could he indicate how soon we in the House, those who are asked to work in the law centres and those who rely on them for a service might know when an improvement can be expected in the position?
Bearing in mind my earlier reply to his supplementary and his acceptance of that statement, the Deputy should understand that it has never been the practice of the Minister for Justice to put himself into a timeframe, but I recognise the importance of what has to be done.