Today the Bar continues to play a major role in the life of the Irish State. Barristers pursue justice in the Irish courts and protect and guard the rights of every citizen.
Just as importantly, the Bar continues to provide Ireland with many of her most prominent orators, politicians and statesmen. For example, of the 10 Taoisigh since the founding of the State, six trained to be barristers: John A Costello, Liam Cosgrave, Jack Lynch, Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and John Bruton.
Mary Robinson, Ireland's first woman president, was also a successful barrister before pursuing a career in politics and then human rights. Her successor, Mary McAleese was also a barrister and law lecturer.
Seán MacBride, who was the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize, was also a barrister. He also received the American Medal for Justice and UNESCO's Silver Medal.
Many of the most successful Irish commissioners to the European Union were barristers. Of the six Irish Commissioners since 1973, four have been barristers: Richard Burke, Michael O'Kennedy, Peter Sutherland and David Byrne.
The Bar in Ireland has changed considerably over the past 200 years. The most radical change has been the rapid increase in the number of people qualifying for the Bar. The number of barristers in Ireland has tripled in the last 20 years and doubled in the last 10 years. There are now approximately 2,300 practicing barristers. Many more are qualified as barristers but are working in the public service, or are employed by companies and other organisations.
The Law Library is located at the Four Courts in Dublin and has been described as "a place which is in fact the fair or market where barristers are hired"*.
Membership of the Law Library offers many advantages to practicing barristers. Through the Law Library they have access to a vast legal library, computer services and legal databases, in addition to consultation rooms, computers and other communication services and robing rooms.
However, perhaps the most valuable contribution of the Law Library is that it enables members to benefit from the advice of other colleagues, particularly more senior practitioners. It allows them to meet and to discuss the appropriate action to be taken in relation to cases.
In recent years modern practice has placed demands on the Bar that could not be met from within the confines of the Law Library in the Four Courts. To meet those demands The Bar of Ireland has built modern premises to provide legal research facilities, offices, consultation rooms and the Dublin Dispute Resolution Centre (DDRC).
Barristers based in the Four Courts have always been involved with the local community through meals on wheels, schools and various other projects. Being a large body within a disadvantaged area, it was felt that a more organised approach should be taken to building links between the local community and the Bar.
The Community Liaison Scheme was set up to raise money for projects and improve our knowledge of local events and our participation. This has led to mock courts with local schools, children’s plays and parties at Christmas, a ‘computers-for-schools’ programme and donations to local groups that are building links within the community.
This scheme will be developed over the coming years to ensure that the Bar is a good neighbour and remains part of the locality. There is also ongoing work with non-governmental organisations and various charities which need legal assistance or advocacy training (how to campaign or act on behalf of someone or some ideal).
The Bar in Ireland has changed and progressed over the years but has always maintained its independence and integrity while serving the cause of justice.