Áine Ní Mhurchu joined striking barristers and solicitors in Limerick city to speak about their concerns.
Yesterday, October 3, barristers and solicitors all over the country took part in a demonstration urging Government to increase funding just before Budget 2024 is released.
After cases had been adjourned for the day, local lawyers stood outside Limerick courthouse in hopes to have their wishes heard.
The strike is a reaction to the Governments inaction around funding for the criminal legal aid system, which has already seen years of campaigning and meetings with Government officials. Two reports have been submitted to the Department of Justice, in 2016 and 2018 respectively, outlining a scheme for reconstruction, but nothing has come from this to date.
Cian Kelly, member of the Bar Council of Ireland and Limerick representative, spoke about the protests in Limerick, saying: “We have withdrawn our services from the criminal courts today because of the Governments failure to engage with us in relation to the criminal aid fees.
“We have had the support of the Minister for Justice and the director of public prosecutions, it’s down now to the departments that decide the finances.”
The criminal legal aid system saw drastic fee cuts during financial crisis over ten years ago and strikers claim it is the only part of the public sector to not have pay cuts reinstated since.
Criminal legal aid fees still stand at 30 per cent less than before cuts, not taking into account the inflation seen since that time.
“When we sit in the courtrooms everyday we see prison officers, Gardaí, probation officers – everyone else in the public sector has had their pay restored, except for us,” Kelly added. “We’re asking the Government to sit down and engage with us.”
“We’re looking to have them restored to what they were in 2002.”
A statement released by The Law Society of Ireland reads: “Continued inaction will directly contribute to the creation of an inequitable legal system made up of those who have ready access to legal representation, and those who do not – whether that is due to affordability, or geography.
“Access to justice, and consequently access to legal representation, is a fundamental human right and, therefore, every effort must be made to avoid a two-tier system.”
Strikers hope to see improvement in the upcoming budget.