EVEN though the Court Service has deemed Portlaoise Courthouse to be below standard for requirements there are no plans yet to relocate the local court from its highly unsuitable position on the town’s Main Street.
The location of the court at the top of Main Street has long been a source of much frustration, with businesses affected by the presence of prison and garda vans blocking the street on court days, not to mention members of the public feeling intimidated by the large groups that congregate on the building’s steps. An alternative location has been sought for years, with the issue raised repeatedly by town councillors and local authorities. Senator John Whelan raised the issue with Minister of State John Perry in the Seanad last week. The Senator described Portlaoise courthouse as being “well past its sell-by date”.
“Its location in the context of modern Ireland is absurd,” he said. “It is on the main street of Portlaoise, which would be tantamount to having a courthouse in the middle of Grafton Street in Dublin.”
Senator Whelan said that the Prison Service has a serious problem with it in terms of security, parking and safety, as do the garda authorities. He pointed out that courthouses in Abbeyleix, Mountmellick, Portarlington and Rathdowney have all been closed and their business centralised in Portlaoise, with the Portlaoise courthouse also housing the Circuit Court.
“The relocation of Portlaoise courthouse is long overdue, bearing in mind that it no longer only runs the business of court in Portlaoise due to rationalisation of the Courts Service,” said Sen Whelan.
He also said that because of its close location to two high security prisons, there are often high profile cases in Portlaoise courthouse and when this happens, the entire main street is blocked with garda and prison vehicles.
Responding to Sen Whelan, Minister Perry said that the Court Service is aware that the facilities in Portlaoise courthouse fall short of what is required, but there is limited scope for development within the existing courthouse building and site. However, he said that it is proposed to construct cell facilities within the courthouse. A number of potential alternative sites were considered during 2007 and 2008, but no site was acquired at that time.
“While continuing its search for a new site for a courthouse, the service has indicated that it currently has limited funding available for site acquisition and... a new courthouse cannot be delivered in the short to medium term,” said Minister Perry.