Judge Mary Devins this week lashed the proposed closure of a number of courts in the county — a move which will see several sittings being moved to Castlebar. The venue in which Judge Devins chose to make her feelings known — Kiltimagh Town Hall, which has hosted the sittings of both Claremorris District Court and Kiltimagh District Court for the past number of years — along with Swinford, is one of the venues set to be cut by the Buildings Subcommittee of the Court Services.
Judge Devins said she was amazed to read that about the closure of the courts as it cost only €17,400 per year to host the two courts held in the Kiltimagh town hall, which are both held 11 times a year. That cost included light, heat, rent, security and all other related services that had to be paid for. She also said that she had only been met an official from the court services about this proposed change 10 days ago, who assured her any decision was not about money, but about improving the efficiency of the courts.
However Judge Devins pointed out that she herself had brought in a number of efficiencies many years ago since becoming the District Court Judge saying, “I’ve had family law days for the past ten years in Westport, Castlebar and Ballina. I was the first judge outside of Dublin to have a specific number of children’s court days when I introduced it, and as everyone here knows I’ve had special licensing courts for a number of years now.
“All this shows is that the Courts Service didn’t bother to even pick up the phone to ask about it. If this transfer is not about money what is it about.” She also expressed her dismay about the closure when the costs are compared to some of those in Dublin. She said, “If you compare the €17,400 to the €20 million that has been spent on new court buildings in Dublin which are very fine venues, but ones I know are empty many afternoons.”
She went on to give a number of reasons as to why the courts should be retained in their current format including that people should be expected to have access to the courts at a local level saying, “The people of Mayo deserve to have access to the law locally”, and hit out at the decision which was made in Dublin saying, “I want to stress that the administration of justice does not end at Lucan and takes place in each of the 26 counties in this republic. Each person in the State is entitled and should expect the same respect and treatment as those inside the Pale.”
Judge Devins went on to compliment the services provided by the different officers of the court saying, “The staff in the District Court Office are the best I have ever came across, and the quality of advocacy provided by the solicitors in Mayo is the highest standard. You only have to look and see that three different presidents of the Law Society from Mayo, one of them whom is in the court today, while the standard of prosecution in Mayo is very high.”
Fianna Fáil TD and spokesperson on Justice Dep Dara Calleary said that this decision doesn’t make sense. He told the Mayo Advertiser, “This is the easy option to close a court, it makes no sense whatsoever. At a time when small towns around the country are all under pressure, taking courts out of them like this is only going to add to the pressure that the businesses are under. With the geographic size of Mayo there is no reason to have all or services centralised in one area which seems to be the thinking.”
Dep Calleary went on to say, “It gives the impression that the Government are willing to pull services out of our small towns when they need them the most.” The Ballina-based TD also confirmed that he will be raising the issue next Tuesday in the Dáil with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin has already written to the Minister outlining her opposition to the closure saying that this is arbitrary and unreasonable and requires immediate intervention.
“Mayo has seen the closure of eight courthouses since 2000 which is a disproportionate number compared to other District Court areas. How can such a policy be justified? Geographically Mayo is the second largest county with a dispersed population. What is being proposed would in effect remove three courthouses from east Mayo.
“To do so would be to undermine one of the fundamental tenets of the District Court which is that justice should be accessed and administrated locally for people.”
It is expected if the move goes through that the sittings of Kiltimagh and Claremorris District Court would be transferred to Castlebar in January, with no date yet known for the potential transfer of the Swinford sitting.