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Concern over future of Mayo court houses

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Concern over future of Mayo courthouses


Anton McNulty

antonmcnulty@mayonews.ie

The final decision on the closure of four courthouses in Mayo will be considered on an individual basis by the board of the Court Services with a business case being prepared in respect of each closure.
Four court houses in Mayo - Ballyhaunis, Swinford, Achill and Westport - have been identified to be considered for closure by the Court Services following a nationwide review of court venues. If the closures take place, the only court venues available in Mayo will be in Ballina, Belmullet and Castlebar.
A spokesperson for the Court Services said the final decision in relation to the closure of any venue will be a matter for the board of the Courts Service.
“Each venue being suggested for closure will be considered on an individual basis by the board with a business case being prepared in respect of each proposed closure. The final decision in relation to the closure of any venue will be a matter for the board of the Courts Service.
“The board at its meeting also approved a local consultation process which will be implemented when evaluating each individual venue. In this regard it was agreed that the consultation process will include local judiciary, local staff, local legal practitioners, other court users,” the spokesperson said.
The criteria for choosing venues to be considered for closure are case count, physical condition, ownership, proximity to alternative venue, staff at location, cells, accessibility and technical facilities.
The decision to identify the four court houses in Mayo for closure were criticised by opposition TD’s who said it was unacceptable that a county the size of Mayo will be left with only three court houses. Fianna Fáil TD, Dara Calleary and the party’s former spokesperson on Justice told The Mayo News that these closures will make it harder for people to avail of justice in the county.
“It is unacceptable that a county the size of Mayo will have just three venues and it seems there has been no view taken of the physical disparity of the county. This will make it harder for people to defend themselves and see that justice is administrated in a fair spirit. These decisions seem to have been taken by people in Dublin looking at a route planner and not by people who have driven the roads in the county and think it will not convenience people in Achill from going to Belmullet or Castlebar,” he said.
While he said that the decision to close the venues was not a ‘done deal’ and the consultation process had to be engaged with, he admitted he was concerned with the future of the venues.
“This government is determined to pull services out of rural Ireland and it is the same in every single department,” he said.
A court service spokesperson said it is too early to speculate as to the future of the buildings while Deputy Calleary added that nobody would buy them in the current market.
Deputy Calleary said it seemed the government ‘had it in for Achill’ given the decision to consider closing the Achill court house despite spending over €100,000 on renovations less than five years ago.
Local councillor Micheál McNamara said he was surprised to see the Achill courthouse mentioned for closure given the amount of money spent on it to bring it up to modern standards and called for it to be retained.
“There has been a lot of money spent on that courthouse and it is an important service to the area and as far as I am concerned all services should be retained. We should do our upmost to retain our services because the economic situation will end some time but if a service is closed it may not come back,” he said.
However, Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony said the review of the buildings did not automatically mean they will close and called on communities to show during next months review how important they are to be retained.
“It is important to remember that just because the Courts Service has identified those four venues it cannot be taken for granted that automatic closure will follow. It is vital that all the relevant stakeholders in the courts service here in Mayo make it abundantly clear to those carrying out the review of the importance of the court sitting in the respective areas,” he said.

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