The body that provides legal advice and representation to people with limited means is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The Legal Aid Board was established in 1979 following recommendations by a government established committee.

It now employs 470 staff in 33 law centres and 16 family mediation offices.  It has provided legal assistance to almost 600,000 people since its foundation.

Chairperson of the board Philip O'Leary said a civil legal aid system ensured access to justice for the more marginalised in society. Without legal assistance, he said one often could not use the legal system effectively.

Mr O'Leary said the board faced challenges in delivering its services, particularly the difficulty in recruiting solicitors. He said resourcing was inevitably an issue. 

The scope and timeliness of a legal aid service was clearly impacted by the level of resources available to it, he said.

Mr O'Leary said the board needed to have the flexibility to use its resources in the optimum manner and be able to reach out to those most in need. But he said the board did not currently have that level of flexibility.

He said they needed to be able to recruit solicitors on an even playing field and not be hamstrung or have to compete against other public bodies who could pay more.

The board's chief executive said its work had changed as Irish society had changed.

John McDaid said their services had been expanded to include supports for asylum seekers and refugees, the Abhaile scheme, providing legal assistance for people at risk of losing their family home because of mortgage arrears as well as family mediation services.

Chief Justice Mr Justice Frank Clarke will give the keynote address at an event tonight to celebrate the anniversary.