Campaign to defend rights lawyer…

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to defend Padraigin Drinan, one of NI’s best known human rights lawyers. While Padraigin Drinan may not have many unionist fans and has been a long-standing thorn in the side of the State, moves to close her office have obviously hit a nerve with those who have been helped by the diminutive lawyer. The organisers’ press release is below.CAMPAIGN MEETING TO DEFEND PADRAIGIN DRINAN

WEDNESDAY 26TH JANUARY @7PM IN THE DUKE OF YORK BAR (off Donegall Street)

Many people will now be aware that Padraigin Drinan, the committed human rights lawyer is being shut down by the Law Society.

A campaign has now been launched by some of us who are deeply deeply concerned about the actions of the Law Society. We aim to pull together those who are clients of the office and those who have worked with Padraigin over the years and more importantly those who are committed to the same rights and freedoms and principles that Padraigin has been defending for the last thirty odd years.

This decisision to close Padraigin’s office is a disgrace and an indictment of a cowardly, vindictive body who have long had the knife out for the human rights solicitor.

Padraigin Drinan is a human rights lawyer with over 30 years experience. She is an excellent lawyer with an impeccable record of representing her clients. She has been involved in winning landmark human rights cases, campaigning for and winning major changes in legislation for women, the victims of sectarianism, the victims of racism, the victims of child abuse at the hands of the church, equality legislation, human rights legislation.

The reason that the Law Society have given for closing her down is that they received complaints about her administration. It defies belief to even the most gullible that a lawyer with a profile and the credentials of Padraigin is being shut down on a trumped up charge of “poor administration”. It is widely known that Padraigin has been the subject of more impromptu inspections by the Law Society over the years than anyone else. In the end when they could find nothing irregular about her accounts, her integrity, her representation of her clients, her staff or indeed anything else – they said she didn’t answer letters quickly enough. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so deadly serious.

For the past two weeks, since it was announced that she was being shut down, messages of support have flooded in from individuals and groups from all over the north, the Republic, the UK and the US. The Law Society has been flooded with complaints. Questions are rightly being asked as to the real motive of the Law Society.

Padraigin has been a thorn in the side of the establishment for years for every possible reason – all of them good ones. She is probably the last surviving solicitor who came to law through the struggle for civil rights in the 60s and 70s. Everyone else has been closed down. She has often been quoted as saying she became a lawyer after internment as it was the only way to see her friends.

She has never fitted the image that people hold of lawyers. She is far from rich and travels mainly by bus. She does not attend the sort of soirees that the legal fraternity throw. She is however a well known face at various campaign meetings to champion various causes. Her practice is run on a shoestring. Her office is herself and one other full time worker and two committed full time volunteers. She does not just believe that rights should be fought for in the courts. She has been at anti-war demonstrations in Shannon, Dublin, Belfast and Hillsborough. She has been there to protest and then usually had her services called on by people arrested at Hillsborough or people beaten by the police at the City Hall in Belfast. She has shared an anti-war platform in ! Belfast City Centre with George Galloway. She has done phone link ups with solicitors around the world about the human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay. She is a contact for lawyers in the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip.

She has been a member of the Anti Racism Network from the beginning. When the South Belfast Group were threatened by the police and the solicitors for Homefinders to attempt to prevent a picket of Homefinders’ office for racist vetting, Padraigin closed her office early so that her and her staff could join the picket. For over a year she has appeared in the news and been pictured outside the NIHE saying that if the law wasn’t changed to allow emergency access to accommodation for immigrants then there would be a tragedy. That tragedy happened at Christmas when a young Ukranian woman lost both her legs. Her office has represented many of the victims of the racist attacks and been harsh critics of the police for not doing enough for the victims. She has represented numerous people in discrimination cases.

She has represented the Chinese Welfare Association for years who have publicly come out in support of her and raised concerns about what is happening.

Padraigin’s office handles dozens of immigration and refugee cases and did so even when it was not covered by Legal Aid and people could not pay. The office has successfully prevented a number of detentions and deportations over the years and highlighted the disgraceful practice of imprisoning asylum seekers.

Padraigin has represented the Rape Crisis Centre for years and has taken on the care system and the church on behalf of the victims of abuse. Rape Crisis have publicly voiced their support for her and asked probing questions of the Law Society.

She took over many of Rosemary Nelson’s cases after she was murdered, including representing the various resident’s groups opposed to loyalist parades. She also has a number of ongoing cases relating to state collusion in the killing of its citizens. This has often meant that she was labeled as a nationalist solicitor. She herself is very clear that it is never a question of religion or nationalism but a question of what is right and what is fair that drives her to take the sort of cases that she takes. There is little doubt that these cases in particular have led to the numerous threats to her life.

Her clients are catholic, protestant and other, they are women, men, black, white, indigenous, immigrant, gay and straight. What ties most of them together and what the law society have admitted to not liking is that they are mostly poor and that the work is often done for free. In an office that is overflowing with work you are more likely to be turned away if you have plenty of money as you will have no trouble finding a solicitor elsewhere. If you are poor you would have nowhere else to go and room will always be made to squeeze you in.

It is absolutely vital that a campaign is built to protect Padraigin Drinan’s practice. There is no-one in the legal profession left who has campaigned and worked so tirelessly to fight for the rights of the most oppressed and marginalised in our society.

The last number of years have seen attack after attack on civil liberties in the UK, Ireland and across the world. It is vital that someone who has made it her life’s work to fight for and protect those rights is not allowed to be closed down on trumped up nonsense in order to shut her up.

Please come to this meeting on Wednesday night and pass this message on to everyone on your e:mail list.