Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Too much heat, not enough light on rip-off lawyer claims

JIM BERESFORD is one of the victims of abuse in Artane in the 1960s. He rang me on Thursday after the fourth Joe Duffy programme dealing with the supposed iniquities of solicitors for the abused charging improperly. He told me the following:He had heard all the programmes. He rang Joe Duffy but was unable to get through. He was called back by the programme and asked whether he had something to say about overcharging by solicitors. Did he have any view? He told her, no, he had no view on that. He was ringing on another matter. He wanted to take up the testimony given on Wednesday to Joe Duffy by John Twomey. He explained to Jane Murphy that John Twomey had not answered correctly the questions about himself put by Duffy.

John Twomey, according to what Jim Beresford told the programme, works for the outreach services of the Department of Education and Science as Co-ordinator of the London Irish Survivors Outreach Service. He was therefore employed by the Irish Government. This detail, not given to the programme, was later confirmed by Marie Aubertin, of LISOS, who confirmed that Twomey is coordinator of LISOS and the Irish Centre. LISOS is advertised on the website of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The outreach programme has offices in Sheffield, Manchester, Coventry, and Camden Town in London. In the Dail some months ago it was revealed that a sum of €1.6m of taxpayers' money had been spent on these organisations by the Department of Education.

Jim Beresford said he thought Joe Duffy had walked into a trap and the facts needed to be re-examined at an early date. Though the programme returned the next day and the day after to the same subject, This sound advice was not followed, although John Twomey participated again yesterday. Moreover, that evening, when RTE's 'Prime Time' did a further presentation on the same issue, it used John Twomey again, presenting him as someone acting on behalf of abused people. It did not examine his affiliations and financial involvement with the Irish State.
I listened to yesterday's programme and was impressed by Ken Murphy, who tried to accept the principle surrounding the suggested overcharging while at the same time arguing against the hysteria and the many broad assumptions being made of illegality without any proof.

As far back as the year 2000 there has been a deep division over the way abused people should be represented. At that time the Department of Education and Science wanted agreement to appoint a panel of solicitors attached to the Redress Board to represent all applicants to the Board. This would preclude the abused relying on independent help from their own chosen solicitors, whose expenses should be borne by the State. The reasoning for the Department's approach was, and still is, obvious. It is now not an issue. The panel idea - which was never a proper approach-7/8 has been abandoned. The relevant legislative change, stipulating independent, person-to-person legal representation, has been introduced. The burden of cost was placed on the State.

But the relevance of attempting to discredit as many solicitors as possible will be evident. It shifts the blame, presently on the Department, to the legal profession. Arguably, it strengthens the powers of the representative groups. It gives a false and distorted view of the legal profession. Lawyers were identified as people who could carry the blame for the bad stories connected with the on-going abuse saga. It creates a cosy, if slightly conspiratorial relationship between the Department and those it employs. THOSE groups who wanted to adopt the State approach included Right of Place, Aislinn and SOCA-UK, all in receipt of Government funding, and arguably more compliant. Some, indeed, were also in receipt of money from the Church. The State's representative expressed to them his belief that victims were more than capable of making submissions to the Redress Board on the abuse they suffered. The Department also sought a 'cap' on payment to the representative group of solicitors. No such cap was on their own legal advice.

Organisationally, and, in my view, despicably, the State has sought to enmesh the representative bodies, thus compromising their independence. Several of these bodies have received very substantial amounts of State funding, some of which has gone into the purchase of property the ownership of which, far from being vested in the State, is privately controlled.

In the end the abused were given proper access to legal representation. This has worked tolerably well. It surprised people who are representative of the abused when Prime Time, following up on the Joe Duffy programme, did a further so-called investigation in which, of the three participants, two, Christine Buckley and John Twomey, were in receipt of money from the State. Christine Buckley makes no secret of this. Her organisation, which does a good job, could not work otherwise. John Twomey, however, appeared as an angry representative someone seriously cheated by a solicitor. He did not tell the interviewer that he was part of the Department of Education's outreach programme. It seems improbable, given the appearance of John Twomey on both programmes, that whatever factual information the Joe Duffy team had, was not relayed to Prime Time.

As a result of the unbroken sequence of Duffy programmes a mood of hysteria has developed about solicitors possibly cheating on the abused. There is every likelihood that a small number of solicitors have over-charged. But it was clear from the demeanour of Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, when he appeared on Thursday's 'Prime Time' programme, and again on Joe Duffy yesterday, that the alarm was much open to question. He was taken by surprise at the all-embracing charges that were being made against the profession. He tried, unsuccessfully, to calm people. The charges, in the main, have yet to be justified. Carmel Foley, who has joined in the hysteria, can calm herself down and think more prudently about the virtual lack of proof so far put into the public arena. If there is a problem, then the Law Society and her office can look into it. But I would strongly advise her not to be guided, either by Joe Duffy or by Prime Time. They are not telling the full story.

On a number of occasions, meeting Joe Duffy and by telephone, I have asked him to do a programme about the abused. He could start with Artane. This is the first time I have been aware of a serious and hard-hitting endeavour. It is unfortunate that it sustains and relays a long-standing nag at the legal profession, in which certain representative bodies on behalf of abused people together with the Department of Education and Science, seem to be walking hand-in-hand, if not arm-in-arm.

Mary Hannafin, the responsible minister, might look to her laurels on this if she wants to keep her vote.

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