MLRC welcomes Minister Coveney’s report, Rebuilding Ireland – an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness

Rebuilding IrelandWe welcome the publication by Mr Simon Coveney T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, of “Rebuilding Ireland – an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.”

MLRC welcomes the careful consideration that the report brings to the housing and homelessness crisis and the focus and attention on the current crisis. We also welcome the plan to deliver 47,000 new social houses over the next six years, as well as several practical recommendations to alleviate the very serious difficulties facing families in emergency accommodation. We continue to have serious concerns about the rising numbers of families entering homelessness and the difficulties and barriers families are facing in accessing emergency accommodation and sourcing appropriate emergency accommodation.

We will now carefully consider the proposals contained in the report and prepare a more detailed comment shortly.

The full report is available here.

 

 

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MLRC presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness

Right to Housing ReportFollowing the launch of the MLRC report on the Right to Housing on 4th May 2016, MLRC was invited to make a submission on the Right to Housing to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness.  MLRC made this submission and presented it to the Committee on 10th May 2016. To watch this presentation back, please click here. For ease of reference in watching back, MLRC was before the committee in the afternoon session, following after the presentation of Professor PJ Drudy.

Read here the MLRC Submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing & Homelessness,  May 2016

The Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness launched their report on Friday 17th June 2016 and in which the Right to Housing is noted by various contributors.

MLRC is calling for the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution to be a key priority of next Dáil, extract from the Oireachtas Report, page 146:

… view was offered to the Committee on May 10 by Ms Maeve Regan of the Mercy Law Resource Centre. She argued that a right to housing should be enshrined in the Constitution, and that this would represent a positive step in creating a fundamental protection of the home for every adult and child:
“A right to housing in the Constitution would not mean the right to a key to a home for all. A constitutional right to housing would, however, put in place a basic floor of protection. It would require the State in its decisions and in its policies to protect the right to housing in balance with other rights … the right to housing would mean that legislation and policy would have to be proofed to ensure they reasonably protect the right in the same way as they are proofed in regard to other substantive rights. This would ensure that at that early stage a check would be in place to ensure that legislation or policy reasonably protect the right to housing. This would mean that policies on housing and homelessness could not be based on a political whim or simply based on the philosophy of the reigning Government. Policy would instead be grounded in the basic obligation to respect the right. In that sense, it would be an enduring protection, a fundamental floor.”

MLRC is happy to see that the Housing & Homelessness Committee has included in its report  a recommendation on the Right to Housing to the incoming Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, extract from the Oireachtas Report, page 142:

Acknowledging –

  • the submissions and evidence provided to the Committee;
  • the provisions in the Programme for a Partnership Government 2016; and
  • the work of the Convention on the Constitution

in relation to enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution, the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government (which is expected to be established shortly by Dáil Éireann) should bring the deliberations in this regard to a conclusion as quickly as possible by bringing a recommendation on the matter to the Government.

Read here the Report of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing & Homelessness, 17.6.16

 

MLRC is calling on the Minister for Housing to urgently act on the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness that the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution be considered by the new Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and a recommendation be brought to the Government on it. As the Minister implements the recently published Action Plan, there is a very important opportunity to take the next step to put this protection in place.  In our report, we note that the right to housing would help those who are facing homelessness now and would be a fundamental safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable crisis.   It would recognise that a home is central to the dignity and potential of every person. The protection of this right would represent and be part of a long-term solution to go alongside the short-term remedial measures such as the very welcome decision to increase rent supplement rates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Launch of the Mercy Law Resource Centre Report on the Right to Housing and presentation to Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness on the Report

Paul Sweeney, Helena O’Donoghue, Judge Catherine McGuinness, Maeve Regan

On 4 May, MLRC launched its Report on the Right to Housing in Ireland. Judge Catherine McGuinness formally launched the Report. Paul Sweeney, Chair of TASC Economists’ Network also presented at the launch on the economic context for the right to housing. The launch took place on 4 May, in the Georgian Suite, Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2. MLRC’s report on the Right to Housing in Ireland assesses the protection of the right to housing in Irish law and outlines the impact that a Constitutional right to housing would have.  For a copy of the report, please contact MLRC on 01 4537459 or click here for a PDF version.

TDs, local councillors, and staff of organisations working in the field of homelessness were among the attendees.  Many thanks to all who attended and for the vibrant and engaged Q&A that followed the formal launch of the report. We are very grateful for your support and thorough consideration of this proposal.

On the morning of the launch, MLRC spoke on RTE’s Morning Ireland and on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show about the Report.

  • To listen back to this discussion on Morning Ireland, please click here.
  • To listen back to this discussion on the Pat Kenny show, please click here. For ease of reference in listening back, the piece is approximately one third of the way in to Part 1 of the show.

On foot of this we were invited by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness to present to it on the report. MLRC made a submission and presented to the Committee on 10 May. To watch this presentation back, please click here. For ease of reference in watching back, MLRC was before the committee in the afternoon session, following after the presentation of Professor PJ Drudy.

Right to Housing Report

Right to Housing Report

MLRC is calling on the calling on the Minister for Housing to urgently act on the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness that the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution be considered by the new Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and a recommendation be brought to the Government on it. As the Minister prepares this Action Plan, this is a very important opportunity to take the next step to put this protection in place.  In our report, we note that the right to housing would help those who are facing homelessness now and would be a fundamental safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable crisis.   It would recognise that a home is central to the dignity and potential of every person. The protection of this right would represent and be part of a long-term solution to go alongside the short-term remedial measures such as the very welcome decision to increase rent supplement rates.

 

About Mercy Law Resource Centre’s report on the Right to Housing in Ireland

Mercy Law Resource Centre is calling for the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution. The right to housing would help those who are facing homelessness now and would be a fundamental and enduring safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable crisis.

A right to housing in the Constitution would not mean the right to a key to a home for all.  A Constitutional right to housing would however put in place a basic floor of protection. It would recognise that a home is central to the dignity and possibility of every person.  It would mean that the courts could look at the decision as to whether it was ‘proportionate’ by reference to the right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right.

The right to housing is recognised in Europe in the Constitutions of Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and in the legislation of Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom.  Around the world, the right to housing is included in eighty-one Constitutions. The right to adequate housing is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Social Charter.  The right to housing would put in place a basic protection in recognition that a home is central to the dignity of each and every person and a foundation of every person’s life.

Mercy Law Resource Centre’s report on the Right to Housing in Ireland assesses the protection of the right to housing in Irish law and outlines the impact that a Constitutional right to housing would have.

 

 

 

 

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MLRC has held a series of six comprehensive training workshops in Social Welfare Law, delivered by Professor Gerry Whyte, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College Dublin

In May and June, Professor Gerry Whyte, Associate Professor, School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, and Director on the MLRC Board of Directors, delivered a comprehensive training course on social welfare law.  The course provided a detailed overview of social welfare law. The purpose of the course was to provide participants with an up to date comprehensive review of social welfare law, to help them in their advocacy and work for their clients in respect of social welfare law issues.

We would like to extend our great appreciation to Professor Gerry Whyte for delivering these workshops, sharing his great experience and learning in this complex area of law.

The workshops were held over three weeks in May and June at our offices at 25 Cork Street, Dublin 8. Among those who attended were staff of  Crosscare, Dublin Simon Community, Ruhama, Daisyhouse Housing Association, Housing Action Kildare, Focus Ireland,  the HSE, De Paul, Merchants Quay Ireland, Stepping Stone, the Irish Refugee Council, IHREC,  solicitor and barristers.   Feedback from participants included:

“The training sessions were excellent in content, presentation and venue. Thank you. And great value for money.”

“’Well pitched.  Gerry was excellent but also got great insight from the comments and questions of other course participants.”

“Very clear, structured and concise notes – really useful for further reference.”

“Found it very useful, will be using it in my day-to-day work.”

All participants noted it would make a large difference and improvement to the way they do their job. 

The topics covered in the course included:

  • Sources of social welfare law
  • Claims and appeals
  • Social Insurance
  • Social Assistance
  • Rates of payment
  • Supplementary Welfare Allowance
  • Unemployment and low pay
  • Illness, incapacity and caring
  • Family payments
  • The elderly and survivors

If you are interested in organising a training session by MLRC, please contact Shauna on 01 4537459 or at info@mercylaw.ie. We would be very happy to hear from you and discuss the training that would be most useful for you.

 

 

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Successful outcome for MLRC client, Social Welfare Appeal and Residential Tenancy Board Adjudication

Our client, we shall call him, Joe, came to Mercy Law Resource Centre as he was destitute and literally sitting in the dark as he had no funds for electricity.

Joe had secured accommodation and moved in to his one bed apartment in January of 2016. He had explained to his landlord that he was searching for employment and was currently on social welfare.  Joe’s landlord continually refused to give Joe a rent book or to sign the rent supplement form. This meant that Joe was unable to prove his address to Social Welfare and his social welfare payment was stopped in March leaving Joe without any income and therefore he was unable to pay his rent.

Joe had to rely on the generosity of charities for food and sustenance.  Joe came to us in April and we made several attempts to contact his landlord in order to resolve this matter. His landlord refused to engage in any negotiations and issued several invalid notices to quit. We subsequently made a complaint to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).

As a result of our advocacy Joe’s social welfare payment was reinstated in May and the RTB adjudication was successful as it was negotiated that Joe did not have to pay 6 months’ rent and a future date was agreed for him to leave the property and Joe was very happy to do so as the relationship with his landlord had irrevocably broken down.

Joe found a job in June 2016 and is happily working away and has put this sorry affair behind him with the assistance of Mercy Law Resource Centre.

 

 

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Launch of MLRC 5th Annual Report, by Deputy John Curran, 29th June 2016

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

Chair of the Board of Directors Sr Helena O’Donoghue, John Curran TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness, Managing Solicitor Maeve Regan

On 29 June, MLRC’s 2015 Annual Report was formally launched by John Curran TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness.  To read the report, please click here.

In 2015, there was an increase of 1,700 people who are homeless, an increase of 43%.   The most recent figures available, for May 2016, record a further very substantial increase: that there are 6,170 people who are homeless.   These include 3,993 adults, 1,054 families and 2,177 children who are homeless. MLRC, in providing free legal help for people who are facing homelessness, is working to the best of our ability to respond to this desperate and unacceptable crisis. In 2015, MLRC provided free legal help to 817 individuals and families who have found themselves in the deep distress of homelessness.

At the launch, MLRC’s Managing Solictor, Maeve Regan noted that MLRC warmly welcomed the Government’s decision to raise substantially rent supplement and HAP to better meet market rent. She noted that the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in its report published on 17 June, recommended that the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government should bring the deliberations on the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution to a conclusion as quickly as possible by bringing a recommendation on the matter to the Government.

Noting that the Minister for Housing is carefully garnering information from all stakeholders in the area of housing and homelessness to formulate his Action Plan for Housing to be published in August, MLRC’s Managing Solicitor said:

“MLRC is calling on the Minister for Housing to urgently act on the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness that the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution be considered by the new Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and a recommendation be brought to the Government on it.

As the Minister prepares this Action Plan, this is the opportunity to take the next step to put this protection in place.  The right to housing would help those who are facing homelessness now and would be a fundamental safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable crisis.   It would recognise that a home is central to the dignity and potential of every person. The protection of this right would represent and be part of a long-term solution to go alongside short-term remedial measures such as an increase in rent supplement rates.”

 

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

Maeve Regan, MLRC Managing Solicitor

 

Ciara McGrath, a director on the Board of Mercy Law Resource Centre, and Project Leader with Crosscare’s Housing and Welfare Information Service, emphasised the Crosscare’s collaborative work with Mercy Law.  She noted that when Crosscare’s very experienced advocates have advocated to the best of their ability for their clients and hit a brick wall, they can turn to MLRC for legal help. Ciara described how these supports are particularly vital as homelessness quickly drains people of the energy to focus on anything but survival. Ciara praised MLRC’s accessible outreach clinics, including MLRC’s newest clinic in Crosscare, Cathedral Street. She said that these clinics bring the law to where people are and provide a light to families in desperate situations.

 

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

Ciara McGrath, CrossCare

 

Sinead Kerin, MLRC solicitor, spoke about the Centre’s clinic advice work and strategic litigation. Recent issues in practice include children whose health and education are affected by homelessness and tenants losing their homes when properties are repossessed from landlords. Sinead also highlighted the extreme deprivation of some clients, in particular those who are members of the Travelling community.  In outlining the work of MLRC in representing people who are facing homelessness, Sinead said:

“As with all human beings, our clients are unique and present with a complex web of societal challenges. That being said, common threads join the people who access our service together and show that they are in the main from disadvantaged backgrounds, experience dire poverty and social exclusion, coupled with or a combination of other factors such as limited education, perhaps with a history of addiction, some with family breakdown, mental health issues, job losses, bereavement issues and dependency on social welfare payments as an income are common.

Our clients show tremendous strength and courage in facing their worst fears in having no home and show great resilience and dignity in really dire life circumstances.  We meet and lend a respectful ear and try to figure out legally what we can do to assist our clients with, and also what other services may be available to assist the person; this can include referrals to various social service agents, from FLAC, voluntary organizations, Doctors, counsellors to local politicians.”

 

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

Sinead Kerin, MLRC Solicitor

 

MLRC warmly welcomed John Curran TD to formally launch the report. Deputy Curran gave an enlightening insight into the workings of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness. He noted that the Committee was set up amid great political uncertainty, during the negotiations around forming a new government in February and March 2016. However, he noted the lack of political divisions among committee members in their approach to the workings and deliberations of the Committee and commended them on their hard work. They heard evidence from a broad range of witnesses (including from MLRC) and also visited Focus Ireland to talk to those who had experienced homelessness. This, he said, brought the committee’s focus to well-being and homes rather than a narrow vision focused on bricks and mortar.

 

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

 

Deputy Curran noted the report’s central recommendations included increasing housing stock, establishing a national Housing Procurement Agency to oversee and drive the work of local authorities, and preventing more people from losing their homes by improving security of tenure. He expressed his hope that the new Committee on Housing would monitor the implementation of the report and continue to tackle the crisis.

 

 

Attendees included the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, Oireachtas Housing Committee member Eoin Ó Bróin TD, Sophia Housing CEO Declan Dunne, and representatives from many organisations working with MLRC, such as FLAC, Focus Ireland, De Paul, All Together in Dignity Ireland, and Citizens’ Information Centres.  Also present were some of the number of barristers, who have represented and represent our clients, pro bono, instructed by MLRC. MLRC is very grateful to them, for taking on these cases, often working at the cutting edge of law, with urgency and compassion and care, and making these cases possible.

 

CC MERCY LAW REPORT

John Curran TD, Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness with members & friends of Mercy Law Resource Centre

 

 

 

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MLRC solicitor Rebecca Keatinge on RTE’s Drivetime on the very worrying increase over the summer months of very urgent queries into our office from homeless families, often with young children, being refused emergency accommodation by local authorities.

In our news blog of 26 April, we noted that we have had a worrying increase over these summer months of very urgent queries into our office from homeless families, often with young children, being refused emergency accommodation by local authorities. This puts them at serious risk of rough sleeping and complete destitution and have a devastating impact on the families. This problem is continuing and increasing.

MLRC solicitor Rebecca Keatinge spoke on RTE’s Drivetime on Monday 4 July about this issue. MLRC’s client, Jade, spoke about her experience of this desperate situation.   To listen back, please click here.

When we have helped families in this situation, advocating for them to the local authority, the local authority most usually accepts that they are homeless and gives them emergency accommodation. We are extremely concerned that other families may be affected and that local authorities in some instances are not meeting their legal obligations to these vulnerable families.

Our experience is that families when they present to the local authorities as homeless and are refused emergency accommodation, the reasons for the refusals of emergency accommodation vary, and include:  refusal on the basis that the family has alternative accommodation, with for example, extended family,  or refusal on the basis that the family has intentionally or voluntarily made themselves homeless.

Definition of “homeless” and legal entitlements when a person is homeless

Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 sets out the conditions for deciding who qualifies as homeless.  Under this Act, you will be regarded as homeless if:

  • there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the local authority, you could reasonably occupy, and
  • in the opinion of the local authority, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.

This definition covers both you and anyone else who normally lives with you or might reasonably be expected to live with you.  You will also be regarded as homeless if you live in a hospital, county home, night shelter or similar institution because you have no other accommodation and, again in the local authority’s opinion, you are unable to provide accommodation from your own resources.

Section 10 of the 1988 empowers the local authority to provide accommodation to a homeless person or provide financial support for a homeless person to source accommodation (known as the self-accommodation option).  There is a statutory entitlement to a housing assessment that extends to an assessment as to whether or not you are homeless.

 

Representing families who the Council has unlawfully refused to recognise as homeless – an alarming increase in such cases

In the cases we have dealt with, we have corresponded with the local authority and sought written reasons for their decision. Our experience is that families are provided with emergency accommodation shortly after we have got involved and before a substantive response is received to our correspondence. This is obviously an enormous relief to the families, who nonetheless face a lengthy stay in a hotel before securing any longer-term accommodation.

We are alarmed by the number of families that we are meeting, and representing, with this issue. We are calling on Minister Coveney, in the Housing Action Plan to be published in the coming weeks, to address this issue – to make adequate emergency accommodation available; and to ensure that local authorities carry out fair and lawful assessments when a person presents to them as homeless.

 

 

 

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Approved Housing Bodies are, since 7 April 2016, within the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board

On 7 April 2016, Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), often known as voluntary housing associations, were brought under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board.  Part 2 of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 provided for this change.  Part 2 came into effect on 7 April (by SI 151 of 2016).

Over recent months, we have met with several tenants in voluntary housing who have been affected by the change and through these meetings have identified various preliminary issues and concerns that this change raises.

There has been over the last years a trend towards the provision of social housing through Approved Housing Bodies rather than through local authority housing. The recent Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, published on 17 June 2016, noted that over the past ten years, the slowdown in construction by local authorities has seen AHBs build more social housing than local authorities. From 2010 to 2015, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government statistics indicate that AHBs have completed 3,144 housing units while local authorities have only completed 2,655. An increasing number of social housing tenants will therefore be affected by this change in the law bringing AHBs under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board.

This change in the law means that:

  • AHBs must now register their tenancies with the RTB:
  • AHBs now have the same rights and obligations as private landlords, with some exceptions.
  • AHB tenants now have the same rights and obligations as private tenants, with some exceptions

Evictions being instigated unlawfully under old law

We have met with a number of clients, tenants of AHBs, who have been issued with notices to quit, using the mechanism that applied before 7 April.  This is creating considerable upset and confusion for tenants receiving such notices. The tenants are often not aware of the new law, and often mistakenly believe they must leave their property in a very short time period. Crucially, they are then not aware of any right of appeal to challenge the eviction to the Residential Tenancies Board.  It is only when they are given legal advice that they are made aware of any deficiencies in the notice to quit and their appeal rights.

Fairer procedures in respect of evictions for local authority tenants, introduced by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, do not apply to tenants of AHBs – a major issue in terms of fairness and proportionality in protection of home

Local authority housing tenants have considerably more protections than AHB tenants in respect of the fairness of the procedure for evictions.  Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, local authorities must comply with clear procedural rules in carrying out an eviction of a tenant.  The District Court is also empowered to review whether an eviction is proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.  There are no such safeguards in place for AHB tenants.

A serious gap in protection for vulnerable AHB tenants – lack of safeguards to ensure any eviction is proportionate, reasonable and follows fair procedures

We recently acted in a case where a very unwell tenant of an AHB. Our client had a psychotic episode. The AHB served her with a notice of termination based on her anti-social behaviour during this psychotic episode. The notice itself was served on the tenant while she was in a psychiatric ward. It gave her seven days to vacate the property, although she was an in-patient for the full seven day notice period.  The effect of the notice was that the hospital could not discharge her back to her AHB supported accommodation.

The Residential Tenancies Acts provide very little protection to a vulnerable tenant such as this. If the tenant challenges the validity of the eviction, there is no provision or qualifying language that allows the RTB to look at the context in which any anti-social behaviour may have occurred or for the decision-maker to assess the reasonableness of any decision to terminate a tenancy. There is also no provision for the RTB to take account of the type of accommodation being provided by an AHB and the level of support such AHBs are meant to provide to such vulnerable tenants.

AHBs have been under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board for just three months and we are surprised by the number of issues that have come up in our clinics. There is clear cause for concern that the Residential Tenancies Acts are not designed to protect the vulnerable tenants housed by AHBs.  Further reform may be needed to ensure that they are properly and fairly protected. We will continue to monitor this aspect of our casework and hope to bring forward recommendations following our further assessment.

 

 

 

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MLRC welcomes and thanks Mary Hastings and Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin as interns with MLRC

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Mary Hastings

MLRC was delighted to welcome Mary Hastings as intern in May 2016.  Mary is a Law & German student in Trinity College Dublin.  Mary was the joint winner with Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin of the Trinity FLAC Public Interest Law Moot competition. One of the prizes for the winner of the competition was an internship with MLRC.  The competition centred on the question of how constitutional and international human rights law apply to the issues of homelessness and emergency accommodation. Mary is going into her second year Law & German in Trinity College Dublin and she is the incoming PRO for the Trinity FLAC Committee.

Bio Photo

Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin

MLRC was also delighted to welcome Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin, as intern with MLRC during June. Blánaid is a Law student in Trinity College Dublin and is a Scholar of Trinity College. She has just completed her second year of her Law degree.  Blánaid is the incoming Legal Research Officer for Trinity FLAC and her areas of interest are constitutional law, public interest law and human rights law.

We are very grateful to Mary and to Blánaid for their real and practical contribution with great energy care to MLRC’s work in supporting, through our services, those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

 

 

 

 

 

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