1378. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice if she will intervene and ensure that the barrier to accessing free legal aid will be removed for all Stardust families involved in the upcoming inquiry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18228/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The Government is committed to ensuring that the Stardust inquests will proceed as soon as it is safe to do so, having regard to public health guidelines.
Extensive work has already been undertaken towards this end. Government funding of up to €8m has been allocated for the new inquests to cover a number of areas including legal aid for families. A bespoke courtroom has been built for the purpose of the inquest at the RDS and information technology facilities developed to ensure that family members will also be able to follow the events remotely when not in the courtroom.
I am committed to ensuring that the families receive appropriate support during the inquest, and also to ensuring the best value for Irish taxpayers from the process.
The Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, made a set of amendments to the Coroners Act 1962, and the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, that enabled legal aid at inquests in certain conditions.
Section 60 of the Coroners Act 1962, (as amended) provides a procedure whereby a family member of the deceased may apply to the coroner for a request to be submitted to the Board in relation to the granting of legal aid. Applications for legal aid have been certified by Dr. Cullinane, and these applications are with the Legal Aid Board.
Officials of my Department reviewed alternative arrangements for funding legal professionals, which were not considered to be the best option in terms of meeting the needs of the families compared to the facility provided by Legal Aid Board.
Ordinarily, applicants through the legal aid system would pay an initial fee and support would be provided on the basis of a means test. This is how the legal aid scheme works for all of the individuals who seek their help, and it is a widely respected system.
The Legal Aid Board notified my Department that some of the Stardust victims’ families would not qualify for legal aid as they exceed the income limits currently in force by the Legal Aid Board, as required by the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995. My Department is actively investigating the position regarding the very small number of families who do not meet the financial eligibility requirements under the Act.
I hope that the inquests will meet the needs of the families involved and expect that all concerned will play their part in ensuring that the inquests can progress without delay.