COMMENT: Courthouses face extinction despite millions being spent
KANTURK courthouse, built in 1825, is certainly in need of a complete overhaul, and the boom days of the Celtic Tiger did not whip its tail at the cold and drab hewn stone building.
But one has to wonder just how long the people of Duhallow will hear the familiar 'All stand in court' considering so many changes have taken place in district courts over the past year in North Cork. After 100 years service Millstreet District Court came to an end this year, with the cases from that catchment area now heard in Macroom.
This is set to change again as from December 1, 2010 Millstreet court sittings will be heard in Kanturk. But for how long?
The former Millstreet courthouse is now home to Cork County Council employees, with the revamp costing €450,000. That money is really only a dip in the pond, when considering the 200 year-old Fermoy courthouse was revamped in December 2007 at a cost of €3 million.
There was great fanfare as the then Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan arrived to do the honours by helicopter, while the then mayor arrived by bicycle. "Clearly Fermoy can take great pride in this building. I was also most struck by the monument outside (to patriot Michael Fitzgerald); such sacrifice helps us remember ... that the court system sprung from our own people," said the minister at the opening ceremony.
However, by August this year the court staff at Fermoy had been moved to Mallow by the Courts Service. But this leads to the most unusual conundrum of it all — it seems Mallow courthouse is leaking, and it will cost an estimated €2 million to rectify.
However, a complete overhaul of Mallow courthouse took place in 2000; yet, a decade later the building is reported to be leaking.
This doesn't sound like taxpayers' money being well spent.
Moreover, the reality is that a perfectly functioning revamped office in Fermoy is now lying bone idle and just gathering dust.
In addition, considering €3 million was pumped into the facility — which boasts two courtrooms, judges' chambers, family law suite, victim support room, consultation/ waiting rooms — the court room itself is small. On busy Fridays the public have to stand at the back of the room.
And despite the €3 million spent on the building it does not have internet access — a highly valuable tool for the judiciary, the Gardai, solicitors as well as the media.
In an interview with The Corkman in August last, Fermoy based solicitor Patrick O'Riordan deemed the transfer of two staff members to Mallow as a "pure and utter waste of money in the present economic climate".
But it also greatly affects the public. People in the Lismore catchment area, Co Waterford, have to travel to Mallow to make submmissions for family law matters arising in Fermoy court.
Finally, anyone who has stepped inside the doors of Macroom District Court may truly feel they are in every sense of the word 'in the dock'.
The interior consists of cobwebs, peeling paint and lashings of drabness. On my last visit, light black rubble fell from the ceiling and landed on the table.
In June 2008, The Corkman carried an article in which Macroom District Court had been told it has to 'clean up its act', as its standards were well below what is expected in modern times. The Courts Service subsequently put in place grand plans for a complete face lift, with 'work expected to begin in the New Year'.
Fast forward and this year, and the Tidy Towns judges also made negative remarks on Macroom courthouse.
Somehow, a revamp in Macroom does not look like happening anytime soon. And, who knows, by 2010 the doors of Macroom as well as Kanturk could be closed indefinitely, and with them hundreds of years of history.