Address by Mr. Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice and Equality,
at the official opening of Letterkenny Courthouse 12 February 2018
Chief Justice, members of the judiciary, fellow Oireachtas members, Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here in Letterkenny on this landmark day – the official opening of a new state of the art courthouse. As a solicitor in practice in Portlaoise for many years, I know this is a significant day for the local legal community. And from a wider community perspective, I am keenly aware of the importance of the local courthouse.
This is the second courthouse opening I’ve had the pleasure to attend in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality. On the first occasion I was joined in Drogheda by then Chief Justice, Susan Denham. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge her great work in the highest legal office in the land and to say that I am very pleased to be here today with Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, who had settled into the role of Chief Justice bringing with him great vigour and vision.
I live in a town of similar size to Letterkenny and I know that the courthouse is a key structure in the civic townscape. The building in which we have gathered stands as an enduring reminder to everyone who sees it of the role of the State in administering justice though the judicial branch. Modern courthouse design is more complex than one can tell with the naked eye and I know that may take some time for those who find themselves in this building to become aware of the sophisticated achievements of the architects and those who inputted into the design brief.
For some a court can be an intimidating place as so often the courthouse is a place where life changing decisions occur. The court deals with many different, complex and sensitive issues that affect people’s lives and so to have a local courthouse, a place that is accessible, modern and user-friendly, is really important.
This Government and its immediate predecessor have prioritised reform of the courts and the legal system with the establishment of the new Court of Appeal, the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, the new Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator which is currently transitioning from the Office of the Taxing Master with further reform to include plans to establish a dedicated Family Court within existing court structures. It is only right that as we update our laws and legal systems that we also update our Courts infrastructure.
And while these innovations are high profile, local courthouses are also a major priority. This project is one of a number of courthouse projects announced by the Government in 2012. Letterkenny Courthouse is the second new courthouse to be completed and in five further locations around the country, Public Private Partnerships will deliver new courthouses or substantial refurbishments in 2018.
In terms of scale, the Courts Public Private Partnership Bundle project is the largest capital building project ever undertaken by the Courts Service, delivering a total of 31 courtrooms and 36,000 m2 of accommodation nationwide.
The Courts Service and the Courts Service Board must be congratulated for this ambitious programme along with the Office of Public Works and the National Development Finance Agency who, together with my Department, are working together on these projects which are now nearing completion.
The opening of this new courthouse in Letterkenny is an example of the Government’s commitment to improve access to justice and it illustrates the work that has been done with the Courts Service and the Judiciary in this regard.
Finally, I would like to extend my thanks to the main contractor, BAM construction company, for their great work on this capital project. I am looking forward to the opening of the remaining completed courthouses later this year, with new courthouses in Wexford and Limerick set to be officially opened in the coming weeks. These new and refurbished courthouses are a lasting testament to the commitment of the Courts Service Board and the Courts Service staff to the delivery of improved standards and services to all.
I am confident that this new courthouse will meet the needs of Letterkenny and the surrounding area for many decades to come.