Whatever criticism has been levelled at the Courts Service for their failure to develop the old courthouse in Tuam, their expenditure on rented accommodation has been described as “very acceptable”.
The old courthouse in Tuam closed down more than a decade ago for health and safety reasons and since then the sittings have been taking place in rented properties around the town.
The Courts Service have told The Connacht Tribune that they have spent €166,000 on leasing accommodation over a twelve year period since the old courthouse closed down – this equates to less than €1,200 a month.
Cllr Donagh Killilea acknowledged that this represents good value for money but it should not detract from the overall aim to have the old courthouse on the Dublin Road in Tuam revamped as a matter of urgency.
The Fianna Fail councillor said that there were people paying as much, if not more, to rent a three bedroom house and added that the Courts Service got good value for money since the old courthouse closed down back in 2005.
“We feared the worst but it is great to hear that the Courts Service have been able to source rented accommodation relatively cheaply but that does not mean that they should continue to rent indefinitely as the old courthouse is lying idle and in a state of dilapidation,” Cllr Killilea added.
Under a Freedom of Information request from The Connacht Tribune, the Courts Service revealed that between 2005 and 2010, they forked out €75,000 for the rent of the Town Hall in Tuam where the court sittings were held.
Since then the courts have been taking place in the chapel of the old Grove Hospital in Tuam and when that lease has expired at the end of September, they will have paid the Health Service Executive €91,000 in rent.
At the end of the year the court sittings are set to move again – this time to a warehouse-type building on the Weir Road in Tuam. This is also the first time that the Court Service will be renting from the private sector. This building has to be adapted to suit the court sittings and work on this is expected to commence over the next couple of weeks.
In the response from the Courts Service, they also stated that since the old courthouse closed down in 2005, they have spent almost €25,000 on its upkeep. This figure also includes costs for water rates, maintenance, structural maintenance, electricity bills along with electrical repairs.
Cllr Killilea said that, in the circumstances, the amount of rent paid out by the Court Service was relatively small compared to some State bodies such as the Health Service Executive of which he is an elected member of their forum, which meet on a monthly basis.
“The HSE squander money left, right and centre but when it comes to the Courts Service, the amount that they have paid out in rent is very acceptable by comparison. It is vital that the court sittings are retained in Tuam and it is hugely important that the vacant old courthouse is renovated and brought back into use,” he said.
A detailed examination is to take place in an effort to determine if the old courthouse in Tuam is worthy of being a protected structure as progress has been made to renovate the building for a state of the art facility. It would cost around €2 million to renovate it.
Four representatives from the Courts Service recently visited Tuam and met with both officials of Galway County Council and a number of local councillors and indicated that a new courthouse is in the offing.