Legal largesse under the radar
People from the area can now drop into the law centre, or visit one of the outreach clinics run on a weekly basis, to discuss any legal query they may have. The major issues that crop up time and again relate to family law, employment and housing. “I think debt is becoming more noticeable as well,” he says. “Obviously the cutbacks are affecting everybody in the community.”
Another area where the centre does an increasing amount of work is mediation. This service sees trained mediators giving people the opportunity to talk about their differences and to come to a mutually satisfactory solution. Mediation can be a six-step process, but the centre finds that, very often, disputes resolve themselves after the second stage, when people have simply had the opportunity to talk to a mediator about their problems.
The centre also runs a unique mediation programme in six primary schools, whereby students learn the skills of peer mediation. If a conflict arises in the classroom or in the school, students can go to their appointed mediator, discuss the problem and hopefully find a solution. The programme has proved such a success that Trinity Comprehensive secondary school has decided to introduce it.
“They learn how to talk about issues – whether it’s a football issue or a violence issue – and actually have the confidence and self-esteem to express what it is that’s bothering them,” explains Paula McCann, a manager at BCLC. “The feedback from the principals . . . is that it’s having a very beneficial impact in terms of behaviour.”
There is also evidence that the children are applying their new-found mediation skills at home to resolve disputes that may arise within their families.
While the centre is fortunate to receive so much pro bono support from barristers, lecturers and mediators, it cannot run on goodwill alone. It receives some financial assistance from the Law Society, and its premises is provided free of charge by Dublin City Council. Its main source of funding is Ballymun Regeneration Ltd, a State-funded body which is responsible for the physical and social regeneration of Ballymun.
However, this regeneration project is winding down and will come to an end next year. “We’re going to have to look around and see where we can access other funding,” McCann says. Despite the impending funding challenge, she says the centre’s six-strong team of staff is “hugely optimistic” about the future.