GARDAI and solicitors have called for a new courthouse for Laois, following confirmation of the closure of Portarlington court.
The two groups made the call about a new facility for Portlaoise following the announcement, which has been greeted with shock in Port. There is also “huge concern” among rank and file gardai that a concentration of all court cases in Portlaoise will put huge pressure on the security of prisoners and garda manpower.
The Port court sits once a month, apart from August. The sittings have grown extremely busy in recent years and because of Port’s border location, cases from Offaly are regularly heard, while Monasterevin cases are also common.
The Courts Service confirmed to the Leinster Express that its board had decided to amalgamate Port into Portlaoise. It said there was no custody cell in Portarlington and one small consultation room. It claimed that most of the 1,200 cases held at the monthly court were road traffic related and would not justify an upgrade at the Port courthouse which, it said, is owned by Laois County Council.
A spokesman said the Portlaoise courthouse had been given a E3 million upgrade and two new holding cells were at an advanced stage of planning. The spokesman said the decision was reached independently of the Department of Justice ,and was not the result of spending cuts. He said many more cases could be heard in Portlaoise which would reduce waiting times.
While garda management declined to comment, there are also security concerns over Portlaoise which has no holding cells and little space for confidential consultation. There have been a number of security breeches involving drugs at the court. Portlaoise-based Garda Jerry Dillon is a central executive member of the Garda Representative Association (GRA).
“The GRA have huge problems with the court house in Portlaoise regarding the security of both the public and prisioners. We have always looked for a green field site for the courthouse especially in light of the two new prisons, that a green field site would have provided for a new courthouse that would ensure the security of the public and the gardai,” said Garda Dillon.
Solicitor Mr Meagher said Port could not cope because of the amount of cases heard each month.
“Port has become an extremely busy court over the last number of years. The facility was under a certain amount of pressure. It was too small and general facilities such as parking were a problem. This is just consistent with government policy to centralise court facilities,” Mr Meagher said.
He said the courthouse on Portlaoise’s Main Street was already under pressure.
“We’ve raised concerns ourselves regarding the building in Portlaoise, particularly the facilities for prisoners. This is going to add to the problems there already. We as local solicitors certainly support the cause for a greenfield site. While mindful of the current economic position, it should be seen as a matter of urgency. The facilities for Laois generally fall short of standards, particularly for prisoners in custody,” Mr Meagher said, speaking of their concerns for public safety.
“The prison service is under a huge amount of pressure to deal with prisoners. We have voiced our concerns from a public safety viewpoint to the court service department, and were supported by the prison service,” he said.
Cllr Ray Cribbin said the closure was out of step with change and would hit Port.
“It was a shock, especially with the new census figures putting Port’s population at 7,000, the largest after Portlaoise. It’s hard to understand why. It’s relatively new and up to date. If it was in need of repair it would be easier to accept. It’s a big disappointment for Port, it will take income out of the town,” Cllr Cribbin said.
An order has yet to be signed to cease court sittings in Port and arrangements have yet to be reached on how Portlaoise will have to cope with the demand.