The Courts Service building committee has recommended the ending of court sittings in Edenderry and Birr.
The end is nigh for district court sittings in Edenderry and Birr, with proceedings at both courthouses likely to be transferred to Tullamore in the coming months.
A recommendation to close both courthouses is to come before a meeting of the Courts Service Board on June 27 next, after the building committee of the same organisation agreed closure as the preferred course of action at a meeting on May 16.
The news has prompted disappointment and anger in both towns. Edenderry solicitor Nevan O’Shaughnessy said he suspects the decision was made “long ago”.
He said a group of Edenderry solicitors will probably make a last gasp submission before the late June meeting arguing the case to keep their local courthouse open nonetheless.
Mr O’Shaughnessy said a colleague received email correspondence from the Courts Service yesterday, outlining estimated nett savings of €3,800 should the courthouse in Edenderry close.
The same email didn’t refer to the decision already taken by the building committee of the Courts Service, something Mr O’Shaughnessy said is proof the Courts Service has not been honest with them.A later email informed them of the building committee's closure recommendation.
“My suspicion is that they’ve just been giving us lip service,” he said of a review process carried out in relation to the local courthouse. “The decision was made long ago,” he said.
Mr O’Shaughnessy also disputed the estimated cost savings put forward by the Courts Service, arguing that any savings will be eclipsed by increased costs in other areas including travel and Garda services
Even if the figure is correct, Mr O’Shaughnessy pointed out that it’s a relatively small sum of money compared to the great loss the closure of the courthouse will mean to the people who use it and businesses in the town of Edenderry.
“I just think it’s absolutely outrageous,” he said. “To say that we’re annoyed is an understatement.”
Mr O’Shaughnessy’s outrage is shared by public representatives in Edenderry, Birr and the wider Offaly region. Edenderry councillor Noel Cribbin said the closure of Edenderry Courthouse would be “a shocking loss to the town” and warned solicitors currently in business in the town might not be there in two years.
Cathaoirleach of Birr Town Council Michael Loughnane also lamented the likely loss of court sittings in Birr. “We’ve lost various things over the last few years,” he said, referring to FAS, Teagasc and the demise of the town council next year. “It’s going to be another public building left in disrepair in the town.”
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said the move of services will pose huge logistical problems - particularly as Garda resources are already stretched - and added that it’s further evidence of a clear anti-rural bias on the part of the government.
“I feel it is the wrong decision and having liaised with the relevant stakeholders, I know how valuable Edenderry and Birr courthouses are,” he said. “There will be strong opposition to this decision and I am urging an urgent rethink by the Courts Service.”
A spokesperson for the Courts Service said that in common with other public organisations it’s operating in a challenging economic environment. In this context it keeps the number of court venues it maintains under continuous review with no venue singled out or exempt from that process, he added.
“There are significant costs in operating and maintaining an extensive estate of properties around the country, both in terms of the staff who must attend these locations and the cost of maintaining the fabric of buildings themselves and providing appropriate facilities in them. In allocating resources the Courts Service must prioritise venues which are regularly used and which have the highest workload.”