Portlaoise Courthouse on Main Street.
A senior Laois Garda has said his gardaí were warned that they were breaking the law when they tried to tell 'loiterers' to move away from the front of Portlaoise Courthouse on busy court days.
The Garda Chief Superintendent John Scanlon has said some solicitors told Gardaí they were “interfering with witnesses” when they tried to move gatherings from the building which is on Main Street and reportedly causing a loss of trade as shoppers stay away due to feeling intimidated.
The Portlaoise Cathaoirleach Cllr Thomasina Connell who as a solicitor is in the courthouse three days a week, raised her concerns about the crowds at the Joint Policing Committee meeting.
“On a Tuesday it is predominantly family law and those cases are staggered. My understanding is that this was done on criminal law days but it seems to have reverted all to 10.30am. I am asking the Garda could they request for cases to be staggered,” she said.
Chief Supt Scanlon replied that her colleagues had stopped them asking people to move on.
“We have been asking people not to loiter. Some of your colleagues told us we were interfering with witnesses. We are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Staggering of times is a matter for the Judge and the Court Service. Perhaps you can bring the message back to your colleagues to see how we can do this better,” he said.
“Some of the scenes were completely unsavoury. The Superintendent has detailed Gardaí to the area. We have huge problems endeavouring to police when we have a challenge telling us we are interfering with witnesses,” he said.
Cllr Connell replied that there are no witnesses on Thursday’s court, and disagreed that Gardaí are outside.
“I’ve been there when there are no guards,” she said.
Supt Scanlon disagreed and said there were Gardaí inside and outside on every court day.
“It’s unacceptable that 20 people can gather and can’t be asked to move on,” Cllr Connell said.
They agreed to invite other local solicitors to meet privately and discuss the issue further.