THE jury is still out on whether the old Killaloe Courthouse will be handed over by the Courts Service for community use.
There have been renewed calls for the Courts Service to transfer the courthouse to Clare County Council in the wake of the huge publicity generated by the hearing of the Jennifer Lauren air-rage case at the Brian Boru on the Hill bar and restaurant in Ballina.
Over and past two years, barrister and Labour Deputy, Michael McNamara has been told on numerous occasions by the Courts Service that a decision on the future of Killaloe Courthouse is imminent.
“It is now time for the Courts Service to make a decision once and for all on what to do with this protected structure in the centre of historic Killaloe. This was an issue which I addressed in my submission to the Killaloe Strategic Improvement Plan and one which now needs to be dealt with by the Courts Service, which I hope will hand it over for development and use by local groups.
“Court sittings in Killaloe came under the media spotlight in the context of the Jenny Lauren air-rage case. However, the future of the courthouse is a more important issue and one I have been working on for some time, as are community groups in Killaloe,” Deputy McNamara said.
He cited the case of Tulla Courthouse and the benefits that have accrued to the East Clare community following the handing over of the facility by the Courts Service to the local authority.
A Courts Service spokesman confirmed that the Killaloe District Court venue is part of an overall national review of all venues throughout the country.
“The specific output from this review was the identification of a range of venues nationwide which, based on the criteria applied, could be recommended for closure subject to a detailed assessment and the preparation of a business case in respect of each identified venue.
“The identification of venues as part of the review process will not necessarily mean that the identified venues will close. The assessment which will be undertaken will be informed by a consultation process with local court users and other interested parties,” he said.
Community groups, such as the Killaloe Ballina Family Resource Centre and Killaloe Civic Trust, have expressed an interest in acquiring the old courthouse to provide permanent accommodation for their wide range of facilities and activities.
In a letter to the Courts Service western regional office manager, Brendan McDonald, Deputy McNamara recalled his previous correspondence.
“As you will no doubt be aware, the fact that Killaloe District Court sittings are held in a public house made news across the world last week. You will also be aware that Killaloe Courthouse is a fine two-storey structure in good structural repair and is included in the record of protected structures.
“Clare County Council has expressed an interest in acquiring the building for community use. This would not necessarily be incompatible to its use for court sittings,” he stated.
With up to €15,000 available to successful applicants under the Government’s Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme, as well as another €15,000 in matching funding, he asked the Courts Service to give its consent for this scheme or make a decision on the long-term future of the courthouse in advance of the closing date for applications on February 14.
Killaloe District Court has been held at Brian Boru on the Hill, formerly O’Donovan’s, since January 3, 2012. It was transferred across the bridge to Ballina when the Kincora Hall Hotel went into receivership and was previously held in the Lakeside Hotel.
Deputy McNamara’s views are shared by Councillor Pascal Fitzgerald, who pointed out the courthouse issue has been festering for a number of years since it closed.
“We have a situation where a local hotel or pubs in a tourist area are being used to hear court cases. It’s an indictment against the Minister for Justice that such a situation could be allowed to take on a state of permanency.
“What must people abroad think after the niece of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, Jerry Lauren was taken to the Brian Boru pub in Ballina where she sat in the bar and was charged in connection with an air-rage incident.
“The comments in America went probably something like this ‘look at the Irish holding their courts in the pub. It’s just like what it used to be in the Old West’,” he said.
“This shows the urgent need there is for a proper courthouse in Killaloe. Bars and hotels are not suitable locations for courts and it brings the legal system into disrepute,” he added.