Thursday, 27 September 2007
Legal Aid Service.
Chris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
On 1 August 2007, Derek Cumiskey was killed in Lanzarote. He had turned 18 years of age two weeks prior to his murder. He was a well-liked student at St. Augustine's in Blackrock, County Dublin and lived nearby in Townsend Street. He had just completed his junior certificate and had been selected as student of the year at his school. He celebrated this achievement by going on holiday to Puerto del Carmen with friends and his sister, Joanne.
Since his murder on 1 August, the Cumiskey family has received consular assistance from the consulate in Lanzarote but no legal aid or representation. As a result, they feel like intruders in the investigative process instead of being kept up-to-date with the investigation. In September, the investigating judge indicated the process would be kept confidential for a further month and any objections would have to be lodged within three days. However, the Cumiskey family was not made aware of this development until ten days afterwards. It should not be beyond us to provide more assistance to families when a loved one dies abroad.
According to the CSO the number of trips abroad by Irish citizens between April and June 2007 was 2,048,000, an increase of 12% on the corresponding period in 2006. People who used to travel once a year are now going abroad two or three times. The increased incidence of travel has also seen an increase in the number of fatalities of citizens abroad, which puts pressure on the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide assistance in such cases. When the recent airplane crash in Thailand occurred, it was inevitable Irish holidaymakers would be involved. I extend my sympathies to the family of Aaron Toland, a young man from Derry.
The number of Irish people travelling to the Canary Islands is now higher than the number travelling to the United States. It is imperative that consular and legal assistance should be improved. The Cumiskeys would have legal aid if the event had occurred in Ireland but because it took place in another jurisdiction, the family has received no legal briefing other than information from the consulate. The tragic case of Derek Cumiskey brings into focus the issues faced by those whose family members are murdered abroad. I understand the number of such cases is small. My office requested the figures for the number of citizens murdered abroad each year from the Department of Foreign Affairs but I am still awaiting the figures.
A reciprocal aid system is already in place in EU member states. Council directive 2002/8 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes establishes minimum common rules relating to legal aid. The issue of legal aid and how Irish citizens access it abroad appears to be very unclear. Issues need to be addressed as regards two measures by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is not clear which Department is ultimately responsible. First, if there is a reciprocal arrangement between Ireland and other countries to provide legal supports for those Irish citizens who require it, why did the Cumiskeys and families in similar positions not have this information made available automatically? Second, if arrangements are not in place to ensure that families of murder victims have the information they need, then clearly a facility or fund needs to be put in place to allow such families access to legal aid when it is required.