Fears are mounting that Tipperary will lose its district court sittings if funding isn’t secured soon to refurbish the town’s courthouse that has been closed for court sittings for the past 10 months because it’s structurally unsafe.
Tipperary Courthouse has been closed since part of the ceiling collapsed at the end of November last year and the twice monthly sittings of Tipperary District Court now take place at the town’s Excel Arts Centre.
As it is a designated historic protected structure, the Department of Justice, Equality & Defence has agreed to fund some limited repairs to be carried out by the Office of Public Works to prevent further deterioration of the structure of the building. But these works won’t be sufficient to address all the health and safety issues that will enable it to re-open to court sittings.
A motion was unanimously passed at Tipperary Co. Council’s September meeting last week calling on the Co. Council and the OPW to work together to make the courthouse structurally sound so that normal court services could resume there.
But Council management responded that while the local authority owned the building, it was the responsibility of the Courts Service to manage and maintain the courthouse as it was used exclusively for court sittings.
Senior Executive Officer Ger Walsh agreed to liaise with the OPW on the issue but pointed out that no provision had been made in the Council’s 2011 budget for any works to the courthouse and any decision to allocate money to this area would have implications for the rest of the budget.
Independent Tipperary town Cllr Denis Leahy, who tabled the motion, said he was very dissatisfied with the Council’s response and pointed out that the limited repairs meant that unless they came up with some plan, Tipperary Courthouse will close indefinitely to court services.
If this happened, it would be another blow to an already beleagured town as the presence of the court sittings contributed to the town’s economy, he declared.
And Cllr Leahy pointed out that if Tipperary District Court sittings moved to another town it would put an extra travel costs on local people attending the court as well as the town’s solicitors and gardai.
He claimed it was proposed to move the Tipperary Court sittings to Cashel or Thurles.
Cllr Leahy disputed Mr Walsh’s assertion that it hadn’t any responsibility for the courthouse’s upkeep.
“Let’s be clear about this, the courthouse is in the ownership of the Co. Council. It’s a protected structure and has to be maintained. If it’s not maintained today it has to be maintained tomorrow. I don’t think we should walk away from it. If I own a shop and it’s falling down. It’s my responsibility to do it up.
“The economy of the town is on its knees and the last thing we need is for the court to be removed. I believe the Courts Service is determined to take this facility from the town and I think the Co. Council should show support for the people of Tipperary town on this. I think that between the contribution of the OPW and Council we could have the courthouse up and running again,” he continued but added that he understood that a private contractor would do the job much more cheaply than the OPW.
Fine Gael Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan said it wouldn’t take a huge amount of money to renovate the courthouse and it would be a shame if the building fell into disrepair.
She had spoken to the Garda Superintendent in Tipperary and the resources weren’t there for gardai based in the town to travel to Thurles, Cashel or Clonmel if the district court sittings were moved.
Cahir Cllr Sean Lonergan said he fully supported the motion and recounted that the same thing happened with Cahir District Court and many people in his area hadn’t transport to travel to Clonmel and Cashel when the court sittings moved to these towns.
Council Chairman Cllr Michael Fitzgerald suggested that the Council write to OPW Minister Brian Hayes outlining councillors views on the issue and to seek a meeting with him.