Recession-era cuts to fees for lawyers should be reversed and are an “embarrassment”, a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has heard.
The issue was raised by Senator Barry Ward, who is a practising barrister.
Mr Ward said the continuance of reduced fees paid to lawyers was “unfair and unjustified”, and impacted both prosecution and defence in legal cases. The State cut professional fees for barristers during the financial crisis, as part of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) reforms.
Mr Ward was supported by other members of the parliamentary party - several of whom are also qualified solicitors or barristers.
FEMPI cuts have been reversed in many other parts of the public service, including for top civil servants earning over €150,000. Barristers have been campaigning for restoration, with some junior members of the Bar recently telling The Irish Times they earn less than €100 a day covering multiple legal aid cases.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar undertook to raise the issue with Minister for Justice Simon Harris and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe.
Former minister for justice Charlie Flanagan, who is a solicitor, said young barristers - and young women in particular - were leaving the Bar and younger solicitors were withdrawing from the criminal legal aid scheme.
Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan, who is also a solicitor, also supported the call. Colm Burke, TD for Cork North Central and also a solicitor, told the meeting there were some areas of the country where the number offering to do legal aid defence work is reducing, and that it should be reversed.
Alan Farrell, the Fingal TD and current Fine Gael justice spokesman, also backed the calls, as did Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan and Senator Martin Conway, according to sources present.
Also at the meeting, Mr Varadkar said the “clear message” from Government to the retail sector was that prices must come down as input costs decrease. Following the publication of a report detailing options for the Government’s projected €65 billion surplus, he said the surplus would occur this year but it was only a projection every other year after that.
He told the parliamentary party that there were “options” ahead of the budget and that a “good welfare and pensions package can be achieved” with high inflation having eaten into the value of payments.
The meeting also discussed difficulties with the zoned land tax, which Mr Varadkar discussed in the Dáil earlier this week after a backlash from farmers with zoned housing land who wanted to continue farming on it.
The Taoiseach told the party he would work to “fix” issues which affected people who were land hoarders, including those who sought to get their land dezoned, developers with planning permission on appeal or in the courts, or where the land was zoned for residential but could not be developed in the short to medium term.
At the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, members raised concerns about the GAAGO controversy, saying there was “considerable disquiet” about increasing costs for GAA supporters.
Minister for Finance Michael McGrath told the meeting that the forecast surplus showed the “extremely healthy” state of the public finances after Covid and Brexit. However, he delivered warnings that windfall taxes represented 27 per cent of total receipts with the top 10 multinationals paying in excess of 50 per cent of that tax.
TDs raised the need to focus on capital spending on housing but also what was described as “tangible one-off projects” that benefitted communities like sporting and community facilities, as well as bringing down costs for people and reducing taxes on labour where possible.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin told the meeting that party leaders were examining options to get capital projects under way, adding that there was a need to get the balance right in a “sustainable budget” that would benefit families.