‘Shock and dismay’ as barristers asked to repay Government Covid grants

Barristers told to refund €750,000 in approved claims after later being deemed ineligible

Sources in the Law Library said the grant had been relied on by many junior barristers, often younger and less experienced, who had seen their incomes severely impacted by Covid-19. Photograph: iStock

Sources in the Law Library said the grant had been relied on by many junior barristers, often younger and less experienced, who had seen their incomes severely impacted by Covid-19. Photograph: iStock

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About 150 barristers have been asked to repay grants totalling €750,000 approved and paid in error under a Government Covid-19 grant scheme.

Dublin City Council, which administers the grant on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, wrote to the impacted lawyers on Monday requesting repayment, in a move which the Bar Council said left it “shocked and dismayed”.

Barristers face repaying up to €5,200 each after initially receiving at least €4,000 with some being paid a top-up of €1,200, when Level 3 restrictions were introduced in September.

A spokesman for the Bar Council said: “We believe [Dublin City Council’s] interpretation is not correct, we are obtaining legal advice and we are going to write to the Tánaiste and the council about it.”

The Restart Grant Plus scheme operates through a system of rebates and waivers of commercial rates payments. The barristers who have been asked to repay the money rent desks, rather than offices, in the Law Library, and have therefore been determined not to be rates payers.

In an email sent to barristers by Dublin City Council and seen by The Irish Times, the local authority explained: “Following a clarification issued to all local authorities, not specific to your application, it was apparent that the interpretation used to approve your application was not correct.”

‘Disapointing development’

In an email to members on Monday, the chair of the Bar Council, Maura McNally SC, said the group was “shocked and dismayed by this surprising and disappointing development”. Legal sources said many of those impacted would be junior without the income from their practice to afford an office.

About another 350 barristers were approved for the grant but had it withdrawn before funds issued.

In a statement, the city council said those who have received the funds have a period of seven days to appeal the decision.

“Following any appeals received, the return of the grant payments will be reviewed and appropriate action will be taken to ensure the return of any outstanding funds,” the council said.

A spokeswoman for the department said the eligibility criteria for the grant are clear and have been communicated to all local authorities.

“The department is not aware of any other council with this issue. The department understands that the council are in the process of engaging in cases where the grant has been paid out,” she said.

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