Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Adjournment Debate

Legal Aid Service.

5:00 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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I propose that in future Adjournment matters, speakers should be taken in alphabetical order.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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The Deputy may do so but he has eaten into 50 seconds of his speaking time.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin South East, Fianna Fail)
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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.

Photo of Jimmy DevinsJimmy 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)
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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.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 October 2007.