Council climbs down after demanding barristers repay pandemic grants
Local authority had written to 150 barristers who had been paid out just over €750,000
The Bar Council confirmed to The Irish Times it had ‘received formal notification from Dublin City Council that all appeals have been considered and approved’. Photograph: Frank Miller
Dublin City Council has been forced into a climbdown over a demand that barristers pay back thousands of euro in State pandemic grants which it had claimed they were not entitled to.
The local authority, which administers the scheme on behalf of the Government, last month wrote to about 150 barristers who had been paid out just over €750,000 under the Government’s Restart Grant Plus scheme, seeking repayment.
It said that the barristers had mistakenly been approved for the scheme, worth up to €5,200 each, as “the interpretation used to approve [applications] was not correct”. However, the Bar Council, which represents barristers, maintained that its members were entitled to the grant, with many appealing the decision.
On Wednesday, the Bar Council confirmed to The Irish Times it had “received formal notification from Dublin City Council that all appeals have been considered and approved,” adding that it is “pleased with the result”.
It is understood that the organisation commissioned senior counsel advice on the issue, with individual barristers considering legal proceedings. Chair of the Bar Council Maura McNally also personally wrote to the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, on the matter. At the time, Ms McNally told members the Bar Council was “shocked and dismayed” at the development.
Last month, the council sought repayment from some barristers who had been approved for the grant, which is based on a complex system of rebates and waivers of commercial rates payments. The affected barristers rent desks, rather than offices, in the Law Library, which the council had argued were not ratable for the payment of local authority levies, despite initially approving the grants. The council said in November that it reversed the decision following “a clarification issued to all local authorities”.
Neither the Bar Council nor the local authority could confirm how many barristers had successfully appealed their decisions, or precisely how much was at stake, but the council confirmed that it will shortly make the final payment tranche under the Government scheme, including those who had been successful in appealing a decision to decline their applications. It said appellants had been informed of their appeal result.
While the demand for repayment was made to about 150 barristers who had already been paid funds, a further 350 were told by the council that they would not be receiving the grant monies despite initially being approved. However, correspondence to barristers seen by The Irish Times shows that these barristers who appealed will also now have the grant paid over.
Meanwhile, new figures show the impact of the slowdown on the operation of the courts, with 95,000 summonses currently awaiting a listing date at District Court level.
The sharp reduction in the cases coming before the court since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Republic in March led to an unprecedented backlog of cases that were waiting for a listing date.
The majority of the summonses that are in the backlog relate to alleged traffic offences, a spokesman for the Courts Service said.
They also involve alleged minor offences involving such matters as drug possession or assault.
A new focus on addressing the backlog has led to a reduction over the past seven weeks of 27,000 in the number of summonses awaiting a listing, the spokesman said.
Prior to the drive to reduce the backlog, the number of summonses waiting to be listed had reached 122,000.
It is not uncommon for there to be up to 30,000 summonses waiting for a listing, the spokesman added.
The Courts Service receives 4,600 new summons applications for hearings in the District Court every week.