An Sportlann in Castlebar.

Judge flashes ‘red card’ at Mayo sports hall as a courts venue

FOLLOWING a decision by a Circuit Court Judge to ‘red-card’ An Sportlann, Castlebar, as a temporary venue for court sittings, a proposal has been made that Swinford Courthouse be reinstated as a location for family law, civil and criminal law cases.

Although closed by the Courts Service in 2013 after more than 150 years service, the courthouse building in the east Mayo town is now enjoying a new lease of life as a business centre and the main location for coroners’ courts in Mayo.

However, The Connaught Telegraph understands there is possible reluctance to the reuse of Swinford on the grounds that the refurbished building is no longer in the ownership of the Courts Service.

Earlier this year, the Courts Service announced that as the number of people in courtrooms has to be restricted during the Covid-19 pandemic, work had been undertaken to replicate a safe courtroom environment at An Sportlann, part of the MacHale Park GAA complex.

However, Circuit Court Judge Raymond Groarke has now terminated family law sittings on the grounds that the venue is unsuitable for use as a courts venue.

Amongst other concerns, the judge cited inadequate air conditioning (during a heatwave) and external noises from youngsters in adjoining play areas.

Judge Groarke terminated the hearing of Family Law cases which he had been dealing with. Cases which are outstanding were put back until later in the year.

Swinford-based solicitor Pat O’Connor, who is also Coroner for the Coronial District of Mayo, has strongly criticised the attitude of the Courts Service to his proposal that Swinford Courthouse be brought back into use as a location for hearing Circuit Court cases.

He told The Connaught Telegraph: “The excuse is being made that the Swinford building is not in the ownership of the Courts Service.

“However, this argument does not stand up. The courthouse building in Belmullet is not owned by the Courts Service yet it is regularly used for court business.

“Also, An Sportlann was never in the ownership of the Courts Service so the grounds for rejecting Swinford are certainly not valid”.

Mr. O’Connor strongly rejected suggestions that the building in Swinford might not be fit for purpose as a modern courts venue.

“As coroner, I have been holding inquests there for the past five months.

“The building has been completely modernised. The lighting and the heating and the air-conditioning are second to none. The building has the fastest internet speeds available in Co. Mayo because of the various business hubs that have been created there.

“With the availability of new technology, there is also a facility to hold remote court hearings.”

Finally, Mr. O’Connor, a former President of the Law Society of Ireland, said he believed increased court capacity in Co. Mayo, as elsewhere, is needed because of the extra sittings and staggered lists needed to accommodate social distancing in this time of Covid.