Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Court Accommodation Refurbishment
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, for coming to the House to discuss the refurbishment of the courthouse in Roscommon town. I raised this matter many times with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, most recently on his visit last week to Roscommon and Galway. I emphasise the importance of the project and the need for it to proceed in a timely fashion. I am aware that it was included in Project Ireland 2040.
Facilities in Roscommon courthouse which has two courtrooms are inadequate and not fit for purpose in a modern courts system. Great work has been done in recent years to support vulnerable witnesses in the courts process. The current facilities in Roscommon courthouse are not adequate in that regard. Locations at which family law sittings take place, including Roscommon town, have a particular need for special protection measures for witnesses. This very much highlights the importance of the work carried out.
A certain amount of work has been done in respect of Roscommon courthouse. When Roscommon County Council moved from Roscommon courthouse into its new Áras on Chontae building, the Courts Service which had occupied the other part of the courthouse purchased the entire building. That is a positive development which I hope highlights a commitment to modernise the entire building to facilitate the Courts Service. I understand that, when completed, the project will include the development of a third courtroom, judicial chambers, consultation rooms, custody facilities, as well as facilities for staff, jurors and members of the legal profession. What is the timeframe for completion of the Roscommon courthouse project under Project Ireland 2040?
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I thank the Senator for raising this matter. The Minister acknowledges her interest in the subject and regrets that he is unable to be present.
The Senator will be aware that a significant courts building programme was included in the Government's 2012 infrastructure stimulus package which included the construction and extension or refurbishment of seven courthouses in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford. Cork and Mullingar, respectively. The Minister is pleased to confirm that new courthouses have been delivered in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Wexford, Limerick, Waterford and Cork since June 2017, with the final project, Mullingar courthouse, due to be completed in the coming weeks. The total capital cost of this initiative is approximately €149.9 million.
In terms of scale, the courts public private partnership, PPP, bundle project is the largest capital building project ever undertaken by the Courts Service, delivering 31 courtrooms and 36,000 sq. m of accommodation nationwide. The Government's investment of more than €523 million in courts infrastructure between 2003 and 2016 underlined its continued commitment to improving access to justice and providing modern and comfortable facilities for all users of the courts.
A number of further developments related to Courts Service accommodation requirements are outlined in the Government's recent national development plan 2018 to 2027. They include further new or refurbished courthouses in regional cities and county towns where facilities remain substandard, including Roscommon, Galway, Wicklow town, Portlaoise and Tralee, and further provincial locations such as Tuam and An Clochán Liath or Dungloe, with the latter to serve as the Gaeltacht court for the region; regional family law centres; and a nationwide condition survey of all court buildings in the estate which will be undertaken to determine their condition and identify works required to address any issue identified and meet ongoing maintenance requirements. The precise allocation and timing of additional funding over the entire ten-year period will be determined following further detailed planning and analysis to determine the prioritisation of projects from a timing and budgetary perspective.
As the Senator is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions. The Courts Service has advised that, on completion of the courts bundle PPP programme of work, five provincial city and county town venues will still be in need of major investment in court facilities. They are Roscommon, Galway city, Wicklow town, Portlaoise and Tralee. The Courts Service has confirmed that, collectively, these cities and towns will be the next priority for investment in courthouse facilities outside the capital under the Courts Service provincial capital building programme. However, the Courts Service has assured the Minister that it is committed to providing improved court facilities in Roscommon town, one of a small number of county towns where a new or refurbished courthouse remains to be provided.
The Minister is aware of the shortcomings in the court facilities in Roscommon courthouse. The Courts Service has confirmed that the capacity of the courtrooms is limited and that facilities for court users are not satisfactory. The Senator will be aware of the historical significance of Roscommon courthouse. The Courts Service confirms that the current courthouse which was built in the 1830s comprises two courtrooms, is in poor condition and lacks the facilities expected in a modern courthouse. The aim of the Courts Service is to refurbish and extend the courthouse to provide three courtrooms, with current plans envisaging one jury courtroom and two non-jury courtrooms, as well as related facilities, including judicial chambers, consultation rooms, custody facilities and facilities for staff, jurors and members of the legal profession. The refurbished courthouse will also provide improved accessibility.
The Courts Service has further informed the Minister that, until recently, the courthouse was occupied jointly by Roscommon County Council and the Courts Service. In 2017, with a view to facilitating the envisaged refurbishment works, the Courts Service purchased the council's share of the building and now owns the entire courthouse.
As I explained, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions. As I indicated, the Courts Service has advised that now that the new and refurbished courthouses at seven provincial city and county town venues have almost all been delivered, it will move to concentrate on the five provincial city and county town venues still in need of major investment in court facilities, including Roscommon. It confirms that they will, collectively, be the next priority for investment in courthouse facilities outside the capital under the Courts Service provincial capital building programme.
On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Senator for raising this matter and giving the Minister an opportunity to provide an update on the planned refurbishment of Roscommon courthouse. The Courts Service has informed the Minister that it will keep the issue of Roscommon courthouse under review.
I thank the Minister of State for his positive response. As I stated, the purchase by the Courts Service of the entire Roscommon courthouse building, part of which had previously been used by Roscommon County Council, is a positive development as it indicates a commitment to commence works at the courthouse. I would like to have a timeframe for completion of the building project. I will continue to work closely with the Minister on the issue.
As an aside, I welcome the students and staff from Kilteevan national school in Roscommon who are accompanied by a number of parents. I am thrilled that they are visiting the House. I spent time with some of the students on Monday and their many questions showed that they had a very bright future ahead of them. Perhaps some of them might sit in this Chamber in the years ahead. I welcome them to the House.
I welcome the students from Kilteevan national school to the Seanad. I am sure they are proud to see one of their public representatives highlighting the need for better infrastructure for the Courts Service in County Roscommon.I am sure it is a proud moment for all of them. I hope they enjoy their visit to the Oireachtas. I again thank the Senator. Her duty, as a public representative, is to maintain momentum for the delivery of capital projects and the response I have outlined is positive. Seven projects have been completed and Roscommon courthouse is among the next five priority projects. Subject to planning and other statutory obligations being dealt with, I am assured by the Minister's reply that it will progress in a timely manner.