Wednesday, 10 February 2021
Appointment of Member of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority: Motion
While the board is new, it has seen hundreds of complaints from the public and others, more than 400 of which are still being addressed and investigated. The complaints seem to range across many issues, but one of the themes running through them is rudeness and a certain level of abuse by members of the legal profession. As such, it is welcome that there is some limited oversight of the profession's members. That is good for the public in general. However, there are wider issues to do with the power and influence that personnel in the legal profession can have over the lives of ordinary people. The poorer and more vulnerable and marginalised one is, the greater that power and the greater the calamitous impact the decisions of the law can have on one's life. Over the years, I have seen how judgments to do with workers' rights and trade union pickets can be used to browbeat trade unions and workers.
I will briefly deal with the impact of those in power and those with legal oversight on a particular vulnerable group, namely, asylum seekers and refugees. The workings and decisions of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, IPAT, have often amazed and angered me, as does the entire process of how asylum seekers are dealt with. Many Deputies share this frustration. I have often had to listen to the far right and others who do not want asylum seekers to be given any right talking about "bogus asylum seekers". The evidence they use for this is the high level of rejections of applications for asylum status. When one examines some of the cases, though, it becomes clear that the criteria and bar used by the IPAT are ludicrous. A couple of years ago, we knew a doctor who had fled from Sudan. He was a socialist and political activist in his country and was under threat from the Sudanese regime. His case was recorded by the UN as requiring asylum from the conflict, in which he had been involved. In Ireland, however, his case was rejected. I am glad to say that, years later, he won his appeal, but this shows that our system is not fit for purpose.
For many, their experience at the hands of the IPAT is harrowing. This month, we found out that a member the IPAT panel, which makes life and death decisions over vulnerable asylum seekers, who was appointed by the State and remains in that position holds views that are on the extreme end of the political spectrum on matters that are vital to the running of this country. Apparently, she does not believe it is possible to be gay and live in a country or society in which that is socially disapproved of. The implications of this are astonishing. As a result of her view, she rejected the application of a bisexual man from Nigeria and stated that, if he was returned to his country, there would be no reason he would suffer persecution. The same woman believes Covid-19 is a hoax and has addressed rallies of the far right and fascist groups. She believes that we are using Covid-19 to hold power and sway over people. It is unacceptable that any holder of an office that dispenses any form of justice or legal authority should have reactionary and offensive views like that. Will the Minister remove this person immediately from the two boards she is appointed to and signal that we view the abuse by any member of the legal profession on any of the groups to which the Minister makes appointments as unacceptable in our society?