Check against Delivery
Address by Mr. Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Justice and Equality,
at the official opening of Limerick Courthouse 5 March 2018
Chief Justice, members of the judiciary, fellow Oireachtas members, Chairman of Limerick City and County Council, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here in Limerick on this landmark day – the official opening of a new purpose built state of the art courthouse.
This is also a historic day as the Supreme Court sat in this new courthouse today and will sit again tomorrow and Wednesday. This is the first time ever that the Supreme Court has visited Limerick and only the second time in history that the Supreme Court has convened outside Dublin, having visited Cork a number of years ago.
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 fourth courthouse opening I’ve had the pleasure to attend in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality. I was delighted to open the Drogheda Courthouse last year with then Chief Justice, Susan Denham, and just last month I had a pleasure of opening Courthouses in Letterkenny and Wexford with Mr. Justice Frank Clarke.
This new Limerick Courthouse, which has been named “the Courthouse, Mulgrave Street”, is a welcome addition to court facilities in the area, which also includes the historic “Circuit Courthouse” located at Merchants Quay. The new Courthouse contains six courtrooms, including the largest courtroom in Ireland, 200m2 in size, which will primarily host District Court sittings.
The new courthouse is built on the site of a former artillery barracks, one of four in existence in Limerick in the 19th century. With two of the barracks’ historically significant buildings remaining on the site, this Court project has delivered a landmark civic building while contributing to public access to this old institutional district of Limerick. The contemporary building design is mindful of its history and integrates the two protected structures.
This newest civic addition in Limerick will contribute to the life of the town for many years into the future.
Limerick, like other courthouses, engages daily with citizens dealing with criminal, civil and family law in both the District and Circuit Court. In 2016 alone, over 20,950 matters across 408 court sitting days have been dealt with by the District Court sitting in Limerick city. In addition, the Circuit Court dealt with over 1,605 matters across 216 court sitting days.
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. Therefore, user facilities such as a vulnerable witness suite, victim support room, legal practitioners room, enhanced custody facilities, jury reception room, media room and consultation rooms are a welcome addition at Limerick Courthouse.
The Combined Court Office in Limerick has access to a number of Courts Service ICT systems, particularly the Criminal Case Tracking System, to assist in the management and administration of the business of the Court. I am pleased to note that, during the course of 2018, a new eLicensing System will be made available to the office, which will facilitate the electronic lodgement and administration of licensing from a solicitor’s own office. This system is part of a wider programme of development over the coming years to modernise the administration of court business into the 21st century.
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. Limerick Courthouse joins a group of completed courthouses comprising of Drogheda, Letterkenny and Wexford, with three further new courthouses or substantial refurbishments to be delivered around the country by Public Private Partnerships 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 Limerick 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 €26 million capital project. I am looking forward to the opening of the remaining completed courthouses later this year. 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 Limerick and the surrounding area for many decades to come.