Thursday, 27 September 2007
Legal Aid Service.
Jimmy Devins (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Sligo-North Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, I thank Deputy Chris Andrews for raising this very important issue. In addition to addressing the issue in general terms here today, the Minister has recently responded to the Deputy's correspondence regarding the specific case of the family of Mr. Derek Cumiskey who died tragically in Lanzarote last month. As the Deputy will be aware, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in his capacity as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has no role as such in assisting Irish nationals who encounter difficulties while abroad. The Department of Foreign Affairs provides this assistance through its network of embassies and consulates overseas.
There are now millions of instances of Irish citizens travelling abroad every year and as this number grows, so also does the need for consular assistance and support. The Department of Foreign Affairs has responded well to this challenge and I understand that the overwhelming feedback it receives is positive. Often the difficulty encountered will be temporary or minor, but we all appreciate that Irish citizens can also find themselves in serious difficulty. The most tragic of the circumstances where consular assistance is called upon is, of course, where an Irish citizen dies suddenly, whether accidentally or in suspicious circumstances. In such cases, and in all deaths of Irish citizens abroad, the Department of Foreign Affairs provides extensive assistance and support including, where necessary, assistance with autopsies, death certificates and liaison with undertakers and airlines.
Embassies can provide general information with respect to the national legal system of the country in question, the procedures followed in investigating crime and any arrangements that apply for the next-of-kin of victims in a particular legal system. Lists of local lawyers are also available but embassies do not provide or pay for legal advice.
In so far as support from Irish legal aid arrangements is concerned, such aid in Ireland is primarily delivered via the civil and criminal legal aid schemes. Both schemes are established under their respective legislation setting out the eligibility criteria for aid under the particular scheme. Neither scheme provides for representation for the next-of-kin of victims during the course of an investigation or prosecution or for representation to Irish nationals involved in legal proceedings taking place wholly outside the State.
The Minister has great sympathy for the Cumiskey family, as I do, and on foot of representations from their solicitor and from Deputy Andrews, he has considered carefully the possibility of making some type of ex gratia legal aid payment to the family. He has, however, concluded that to provide aid in these circumstances would go too far beyond what is envisaged under Irish legal aid arrangements and lead to an expectation on the part of the many other Irish nationals who become involved in legal proceedings while abroad that their cases should also be covered by the Irish legal aid schemes. This was never the intention of those schemes.
The Department is, however, making inquiries regarding Spanish legal aid arrangements and will pass on any information it receives. The Department of Foreign Affairs will continue, of course, to provide all possible consular assistance to the family.