REGENERATION areas are set to benefit with the rollout of a free legal service in the coming weeks.
The Limerick service is to be provided by the Northside Community Law Centre (NCLC), which has been operating in Coolock in north Dublin since 1975, and is funded by Limerick Regeneration and the Public Interest Law Alliance.
The first independent law centre in the country, the NCLC provides free legal services and representation in civil matters in communities that traditionally had difficulty accessing solicitors owing to the costs involved.
The Limerick centre is the first such to open outside of Dublin. A solicitor will be appointed by the autumn and, while based in an office at the Money and Budgeting Advice Service on Mallow Street, will spend most of the week in Southill, Moyross, St Maryâ€™s and Ballinacurra Weston.
Various groups in Limerick and Dublin have put in long hours over the past 18 months to deliver the service but it has its origins at grassroots level in Southill.
â€œI work with residents as a community officer for Oâ€™Malley and Keyes Park and I often found when they had a problem with housing or some other issue, I didnâ€™t have the answers on the legal side of things, I would have to go and ask Lee-Ann Kennedy Purcell (CEO of Our Lady of Lourdes Community Services Group) who is a solicitor herself,â€ explained Mary Higgins at Southill Area Centre.
â€œWe got together with others and got in touch with the Northside Law Centre in Coolock and that led eventually to getting money from Regeneration. The original plan was to bring this service to the southside and what we are ending up with is one for the whole city. A solicitor-manager will run the service one day in the Island, one in Moyross, one in Southill and one in Weston.â€
Free legal advice will be given on housing, social welfare, debt, employment and other areas of civil law. Seminars will be held in the communities while the solicitor will also take on cases for individuals. Communities and individuals in Limerick will also be offered a community dispute resolution and mediation service, which would help resolve everything from a dispute between neighbours to working out problems between those in debt and their creditors rather than resorting to the courts.
Ms Kennedy Purcell paid tribute to Colin Daly for enthusiastically supporting the proposal for the Limerick centre. Mr Daly is a former manager of the NCLC and was recently appointed a District Court judge.
Judge Daly has been succeeded in Coolock by solicitor Moya de Paor, herself a native of Limerick.
â€œWe were approached by various community activists in Limerick city and saw there was a need for a community law centre in the city so we were delighted to come togther with the various groups to make it happen,â€ said Ms de Paor.
â€œWe hope that it can make a major difference in the lives of people in regeneration communities in giving them access to a solicitor for their needs. It can be intimidating for people from marginalised communities to make that approach.â€