Repeat offenders should be made to pay towards their free legal aid from their state benefits, a Laois county councillor has proposed.
In a motion to Laois County Council, Cllr James Kelly called for action because of the cost involved.
“The cost is above €60 million per annum for free legal aid. I’ve no problem for the first offence, or the second or maybe the third, citizens can’t be denied access to a defence, but when you see cases of people on their 212th offence, after being granted free legal aid.
"It is unfair that people on low incomes and pensions surviving on a pittance are contributing directly or indirectly to the exchequer to this free legal aid. Why can’t regular offenders make a contribution from their state benefits,” he said.
His fellow Independent, Cllr Brendan Phelan seconded his motion.
“We all see the abuse of it. When you see the situations in hospitals, and see the amount of money wasted on free legal aid for repeat offenders. Others go to European courts and own millions in property but still qualify for legal aid,” he said.
Cllr Noel Tuohy, Labour, a retired prison officer, also backed the proposal.
“I’ve seen gangsters, fellas with money most of us only dream about, who used to put €10,000 on a horse, going in and getting free legal aid. This guy with 220 offences and my god, we’re paying for it,” he said.
Cllr Mary Sweeney, Fine Gael, hopes the motion “is taken seriously” by the Department of Justice.
“It is annoying for people reading the papers, to see repeat offenders, or people on lavish lifestyles coming to court in BMWs, with five or six barristers around them,” she said.
“I agree, the Minister should look into it,” said Fianna Fáil's Cllr John Joe Fennelly.
The councillors agreed to ask the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to limit the amount of free legal aid to repeat offenders.