Opinions divided over Denny site court proposals
COUNCILLORS are divided over suggestions that Tralee Courthouse be moved to the Denny factory site in the town.
The Court building – which is generally accepted as unfit for purpose – is due to be either refurbished, or moved to a new building on a greenfield site.
While town centre businesses and the legal community want to see the courts stay on Ashe Street, the State’s favoured option seems to be a new building.
Various sites have been mooted, with the Denny site often cited as an ideal location.
Senior sources at the Department of Justice have said that the 2.3 acre site – adjacent to Tralee Garda Station – is now the preferred option for the relocation of Kerry’s main courthouse and last May a source who is familiar with the matter and close to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that the Denny Site is the “favoured” option for a new courthouse.
A spokesman for the Courts Service said that “An assessment recently carried out by the OPW indicates that very little potential exists for developing the existing courthouse site to provide modern court facilities”.
This view is strongly contested by Kerry Law Society members who argue there is ample space in the existing building - including its empty open air rotunda - and nearby to allow for its redevelopment.
At Monday’s Tralee Municipal District council meeting, Cllr Jim Finucane tabled a motion seeking a feasibility study to examine if the current court building could be converted into a civic or arts centre should the decision be made to move the court facilities to a new site.
Cllr Finucane said building a new courthouse would provide Tralee with a brand-new court facility along with the chance to develop an iconic building.
He added that the Courts Service was clearly moving ahead with its plan and the council needed to pre-empt them.
Regarding the Denny Site suggestion, Cllrs Norma Foley, Terry O’Brien and Sam Locke said the idea of building a new courthouse on the site never formed part of the extensive public consultation process when the council was preparing a masterplan for the site.
Cllr O’Brien said he agreed with Cllr Finucane but he was concerned about what would happen the current building if the court is moved.
Wheelchair user Cllr O’Brien cited the fact that when he ran for Labour in the 2007 General Election he was forced to sign his nomination papers in the cells in the courthouse basement as the building was, and remains, innaccessable for wheelchairs.
“12 years ago I was told it (the access issue) would be fixed in 18 months and it’s still the same,” said Cllr O’Brien.
Cllr Sam Locke said that building a courthouse on the Denny Site would be contrary to the wishes of the people of Tralee as expressed during the public consultaion process.
Cllr Locke added that if the council had a suitable greenfield site it should be used for social housing and not a new court building.
Cllr Pa Daly – a leading figure in the fight to keep the courthouse where it is – said the State can’t be allowed proceed unilaterally and that a solution can be found on Ashe Street.
“This needs imagination and that’s not there in the Courts Service,” he said. “They want an easy life and, unfortunately, no-one is telling them ‘no it has to stay where it is’”.
Tralee MD Director of Service Michael Scannell said he understood that the Courts Service was “close to a decision”.
While he did not provide specific details Mr Scannell said that the council recognised “the importance of maintaining the courts in the town centre”.
Whether he was refferring to Ashe Street, the Denny Site or another location was not clear.
Mr Scannell suggested that any decision will rest with the Courts Service and is largely out of the council’s hands.
“If they (the Courts Service) want to build on a greenfield site they will do it, whether it’s on land we own or not,” he said.
He added that even if a court complex was built on the Denny site there would still be ample room to provide green spaces and community amenities.
Tralee Courthouse. Inset (top) Fine Gael Cllr Jim Finucane (bottom) Sinn Féin Cllr Pa Daly.