Anger mounting in Edenderry over threat of court closure

ANGER is mounting in the Offaly town of Edenderry over the threatened closure of the courthouse in the town.

ANGER is mounting in the Offaly town of Edenderry over the threatened closure of the courthouse in the town.

Local solicitors and local representatives have condemned the proposed move and have urged the people of the area voice their concerns as the cut-off date for submissions by interested parties to the Court Services is January 18. Any decision on the proposed closure would take place after that date once the submissions have been considered.

In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the practising solicitors in Edenderry have expressed ‘regret, annoyance and anger’ at the proposed closure.

The statement goes on to say that the closure would have ‘a profound effect on the local area and community’.

The solicitors state, “It is with great regret, annoyance and anger that the Edenderry Area Solicitors have learned of the imminent threat to the closure of Edenderry Courthouse and its District Court Sittings.

“In or around June/July 2011, we were informed that the Government, as part of a ‘cost cutting’ review of Court Services, was considering the closure of 50 regional Courthouses including Edenderry. Arising from our serious concerns, we immediately made written and oral representations to the Midland Bar Association, Court Services, local Councillors and local TD’s. We were also informed that representations had been made personally to Alan Shatter, The Minister for Justice. We were given various assurances, orally and in writing that the long-term tenure of Edenderry District Court was secure.

“We were informed that we, as local practitioners with practical knowledge of the issues concerned and daily running of the Courts, would be consulted if any future change was being considered. This has proven to be untrue and misleading.”

The statement continues,’”We have been made aware, indirectly, that the Court Services have recently conducted a ‘Court Venue Review’ and have written to the Local Authority with their findings. They have devised a ‘Points Allocation’ using a formula (devised by themselves without prior consultation), which in our opinion is a formula simply designed to attain a positive result towards the closure of Courts such as Edenderry

“Under this ‘system’ any Court Sitting with a score of less than 23 is deemed to be at ‘risk’. Under their review Edenderry has only scored 11. We have made a written Submission to the Court Services strenuously objecting to this Points System, how it was devised, how it was rated and in our opinion how it was incorrectly applied to Edenderry Court.”

The statement also outlines the impact the closure would have on the local community in Edenderry calling it ‘another attack on rural Ireland.

“The closure of Edenderry District Court would have a profound effect on the local area and community. It is yet another attack on Rural Ireland, as is the closure of other rural Courts throughout the country. It infringes upon people’s rights to have ease of access to Court and to Justice.

“The Courthouse has operated since the 1820’s. It is a landmark in the Town. It is a local institution. Its closure will result in people having to travel from Edenderry to Tullamore to defend themselves, often in cases where they are just witnesses, or involved in Family Law cases or in Civil disputes. People with no private transport will have to rely upon bus services to get to and from Court. This will cause expense, hardship, inconvenience and frustration.

“Local businesses will suffer from reduction in business on not only Court days, but also in general, as this will condemn Edenderry as a ‘Second-Tier’, ‘Backwater’ Town. Garda presence in the town on court days will be greatly affected, as local Garda will have to attend Tullamore to prosecute their cases, thus exposing Edenderry to more crime etc. on those days.”

The solicitors also hit out at the claim that the review is a cost saving excersise.

“Most damning of all is the assertion that this Review process is an attempt at cost saving to the State. We estimate that the closure of Edenderry District Court and relocating it to Tullamore will in fact make no saving to the Exchequer but in fact dramatically increase the said costs. It is estimated that each Sitting of Edenderry District Court costs the State no more than €500 per Sitting. Moving it to Tullamore will in reality and fact, increase those costs by many multiples.

“Are we living in a political and economic environment that seeks to give the false impression that savings are being made for the greater good, when in reality no saving is being effected and the honest taxpaying citizen is being ‘duped’. Is the motivation to try and portray savings by individual State Bodies (the Court Services) at the expense of other State Bodies (Legal Aid, An Garda Siochana and others)? Is it a case of ‘the hand has made a saving, to hell with the arm’ ? If this is the case then our Government has become totally dysfunctional. Whatever happened to common sense.

“Edenderry Court was modernized in recent years at a very substantial cost to the taxpayer. It is crazy to be writing this off as a major loss to the exchequer for so called minimal savings. We do not believe there will be minimal savings and we are certain there will be much greater expenditure which will have to be paid by the taxpayer through some other part of the Exchequer.

“If we do not act now and express our concerns, both through the proper channels for us as members of the legal profession, and also through public channels on behalf of the people of Edenderry and its Townlands then the decision will be made without due or proper regard to our rights and our demands.

The statement ends with a call to the people of North East Offaly to make their voices heard.

“This cannot be allowed to happen. We urge all residents in North East Offaly to stand up for our rights, to contact your local TD and Councillor and express your discontent. This is the only way our voice will be heard.”

Local Fianna Fail Councillor Noel Bourke has also expressed his disatisfaction at the decision saying that the Minister for Justice must take the necessary steps to ensure that Edenderry is retained as a centre for District Court sittings.

“The future of Edenderry as a District Court centre is being evaluated at present by The Court Service and could lead to a decision to terminate sittings of the Court in Edenderry with cases being heard in Tullamore instead,” said Cllr Bourke.

Cllr Bourke said he has written to the Court Service outlining the reasons why he considers that no change should take place as far as Edenderry is concerned and while he urges other public representatives and community organisations to do likewise at the end of the day the Minister for Justice is the person that can ensure that the present arrangement stays in place. He said that the future of Birr as a District Court centre is also being evaluated at this time.

Cllr Bourke said that while the Court sits for only one or two days each month in Edenderry, it is part of the infrastructure of the town and it’s closure will make life more difficult for those required to attend including those summonsed to attend, witnesses, the Gardai and members of the legal profession. It will also have an adverse economic effect on the town as Court sittings bring some additional business.

“I would urge the Minister for Justice not to allow this closure to take place and would ask our Oireachtas members to pursue this matter with the Minister,” said Cllr Bourke.