THE Minister for Justice, Claire Sugden, has been slammed for her “total apathy” to calls to reverse the decision to designate Enniskillen courthouse as a hearing centre.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Council wrote to the Minister last month requesting a reversal of the decision in respect of Enniskillen Courthouse in light of the reduction of jobs from the district such as HM Revenue and Customs. In her response, Ms Sugden would not be drawn on a change in current arrangement which was branded as “pathetic” by Ulster Unionist Cllr Howard Thornton.
It was confirmed a year ago by her predecesor that Enniskillen courthouse would not be axed but instead given a partial reprieve. Former Justice Minister David Ford had proposed that Enniskillen along with seven other “underused” courthouses across the North close as a way to save money in his department’s budget, cut by £75m.
Six courthouses – Armagh, Ballymena, Limavady, Lisburn, Magherafelt and Strabane – were to close but Enniskillen and Newtownards were reprieved.
Since August 1st, Enniskillen is open only on the two or three days a week when there is a court sitting and otherwise is closed outside of these times. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) has already stated that there have been no jobs lost as a result of the change with four court staff posts transferred from Enniskillen to Omagh courthouse.
Last October Ms Sugden reprieved other courthouse closures in provincial towns such as Armagh and Strabane.
Cllr Thornton pointed out to council members at their monthly meeting in Enniskillen that the local courthouse had a utilisation rate of 42.8% in contrast to 23.3% in Limavady in Ms Sugden’s own constituency.
He said: “She has given reprieve to the other six courthouses but done nothing for Enniskillen. Why are we being discriminated again in the west and having four court posts lost to Omagh. I think we are left as the only county in Ireland without a courthouse and while there is reprieve in some areas, there is absolutely none for Enniskillen when we made a much better case at the time.”
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