Portlaoise has been left behind in a big capital investment in courthouses around the country.
Just before Christmas, soon after another flare up at Portlaoise's courthouse, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD welcomed the signing of the contracts for a Courts Bundle Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Project which will see the construction or redevelopment of seven regional Courthouses.
In total €135 million will be spent with 700 new jobs to be created during the period of construction. Four new courthouses are to be built in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Limerick and Wexford. Substantial refurbishment and extension works are planned for existing courthouses in Cork, Mullingar and Waterford.
Construction will start early this year with a view to completing the new and refurbished buildings within the next 24 months. Under the PPP model, the courthouses will be designed, built, financed and maintained for twenty five years.
“It is only right that as we update our laws and legal systems that we also update our Courts infrastructure,” said Minster Fitzgerald.
Asked why Portlaoise had not been included in the bundle the Department referred to a statement issued by the Courts Service last year in response to violence at the building on Main St.
It stated that the Courts Service acknowledges that the location of the Courthouse in Portlaoise is not ideal and that it makes a busy street, even busier on court days. The Service said it aims to find a new location for the building of another courthouse in the town in the medium term but this project is completely reliant upon the availability of capital funds in that period, and on us finding a suitable site.
It said a site has not been located to date and thus could not be included in the current bundle of PPP projects.
The Service accepted that Portlaoise is one of the few county towns remaining to be refurbished / relocated and is a priority in the next tranche of projects they are planning.
The Service also stated that the matter of the behaviour of people in the street is a policing issue and should be referred to the Gardai.
It said that there are many courthouses in large towns and cities across the country - with the same make-up of people who attend as defendants, witnesses, or to observe.
It was claimed that there are rarely ongoing problems of public order issues around or outside courthouses - due to the large presence of Gardai on court days. The court services said many towns resist and argue against the transferring of business out of their area - due to the influx of business a court day can bring to a town.
Work on the cells in Portlaoise was undertaken in the late summer to improve capacity and improve security.
It was claimed that this would tackle some of the problems.