Paul Murphy defends seeking legal aid for criminal trial

Alan Farrell tells TDs application a ‘crime on the taxpayer who are footing the bill’

Paul Murphy sharply criticised TDs who earlier raised his case during a debate on crime and criminal gangs and called on them to withdraw their remarks and apologise. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Paul Murphy sharply criticised TDs who earlier raised his case during a debate on crime and criminal gangs and called on them to withdraw their remarks and apologise. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy has defended his decision to seek legal aid for his forthcoming criminal trial.

In an impassioned speech in the Dáil he also sharply criticised TDs who earlier raised his case during a debate on crime and criminal gangs and called on them to withdraw their remarks and apologise.

He said it was “outrageous” of them to attempt to use a debate on crime and criminal gangs to “make cheap, unfounded allegations against me” over his application for legal aid.

He called on Fine Gael Dublin Fingal TD Alan Farrell to withdraw his comment that his legal aid application was a “crime on the taxpayer who are footing the bill”.

Mr Murphy also claimed the Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy who said he had received many emails from constituents concerned about the costs, had “scuttled off” when he saw Mr Murphy enter the chamber.

He claimed the remarks from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs were made because they had lost the battle over water charges, which they believed in and were “feeling sore and trying to do damage to the Anti-Austerity Alliance”.

The Dublin South West TD faces prosecution for false imprisonment of Tánaiste Joan Burton during a water protest.

Mr Murphy said it made no difference whether he took a young worker’s wage or a TD’s entire salary, he would still not be able to afford his legal fees in the case which was expected to last up to six weeks and cost more than €100,000.

He accused them of conflating civil and criminal legal aid and pointed out that while the case was initiated in the District Court, the DPP applied to have it moved to the Circuit Court, where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment as opposed to one year, when heard in the lower court.

Minister of State Damien English welcomed Mr Murphy’s explanation but said the TDs had asked a fair question, because people had a lot of concerns about access to justice.

Earlier Fine Gael Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan said the administration of free legal aid had to be changed and called for emergency amending legislation.

He said people were “absolutely outraged that a member of this House, getting a salary of the order of €87,258 would qualify for free legal aid. There is something seriously wrong with our country when something like that can happen.”

He claimed that a system aimed to help a person in need had “turned into a gravy train for the Four Courts”.

Mr O’Donovan said the administration of free legal aid had descended into the farce and if those dealing with it showed a lack of willingness to look at their base salary rather than their disposable income and allocate it on the basis of need, “then we need to look at a change in how that policy is administered”.

He said if a person on €100,000 decides to give €90,000 to cats and dogs’ homes “are they going to qualify for free legal aid”.

Mr O’Donovan said “the abuse that is perceived and it’s no longer a perception as far as I’m concerned of free legal aid has really come to a crescendo, a culmination when a member of this house qualifies for it”.

He said “the false indignation I’ve listened to for the last five years from the people like the AAA and PBP they’ve gone very quiet now at the moment in relation to the allocation of free legal aid and these are the people who are talked about golden circles and taxing the rich and in my book and anyone on €87,258 does not deserve free legal aid.”

State to bear down on gang activity

Earlier Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald insisted in the Dáil that the State will take all measures open to it to “bear down on the deadly activities of gangs” .

Opening a day-long debate on criminal activity and crime gangs, Ms Fitzgerald insisted “there is absolutely no question of any reduction in the resources or overtime being made available to Gardaí to counteract gang-related crime”.

The Minister said she had assured An Garda Síochána it would have the Government’s full support in their efforts to disrupt gang-related crime and “they will continue to access all resources necessary, including extensive overtime, to support them in delivering concentrated visible policing measures to tackle gang-related crime”.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “However long it takes, and whatever resources are necessary, the State will take all measures open to it to bear down on the deadly activities of gangs.”

Describing the “evil and sinister” cycle of gangland violence in Dublin as shocking and disturbing, Ms Fitzgerald said the “loss of life, including the life of those who played no part in gang related feuds, is intolerable”.

She said the violent feud, which to date has left six people dead, “is unprecedented in its audacity. The gangs show no regard for public safety. The events we have seen are outrageous.”

The Minister pointed out that before the current spate of violence gang-related murders had fallen from 17 in 2010 to three last year and the overall murder rate was down 43 per cent in the same period.

‘Violence and thuggery’

She said: “We must not let this record of improvement nor the safety and good name of our capital city be dragged down by the violence and thuggery of these gangs.”

Work was progressing on establishing a dedicated 55-strong armed support unit for Dublin and she said the application response had been overwhelming.

She commended the Garda’s anti-crime gang operation including a range of responses “from visible policing, the use of armed checkpoints and targeted and intelligence based operations; all aimed at disrupting and preventing incidents, as well as detecting and prosecuting those involved”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins hit out at the way the free legal aid system operated. He said people came to his clinics seeking legal aid for many reasons but could not access it because the majority of the funding was going to criminal legal aid.

He also sharply crticised the two tier Garda pay system for new recruits, similar to what applied with teachers and nurses.

Mr Collins said morale was so low and pay so poor that gardaí were leaving the force to go work in Tescos.

Inner city

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for a taskforce approach by all of Government to the inner city.

The Dublin Central TD said there had been three murders in the area since February 8th and people were living in a state of fear. They were afraid bringing their children to school and they were fearful going for a drink at night.

Ms McDonald said that since 2010 there had been 140 fewer gardaí in the north inner city and a reduction of 160 in the south inner city.

She pointed out that Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station had been closed since 2011 and it was the nearest station to two of the gang killings that had taken place - in Ballybough and Summerhill.

Ms McDonald warned that the single biggest issue that needed to be dealt with immediately in the north inner city was the drugs problem with prescription medicine.

She said An Garda was operating with its hands tied behind its back because of the difficulty prosecuting drug dealers for prescription medication and legislation needed to be changed to effectively deal with this.