Plans to close eight of Northern Ireland’s 20 courthouses have been met with local opposition.
On Wednesday Justice Minister David Ford said that courts in Lisburn, Newtownards, Ballymena, Limavady, Armagh, Magherafelt, Strabane and Enniskillen would be closed because of budget cuts to his department.
Armagh independent unionist Paul Berry said that the decision to close the city’s 1806 courthouse was “bizarre” and would be “challenged very strongly by the local community”.
He said: “In 1993 the IRA planted a 1,000lb at the gates causing major structural damage to this beautiful listed building and £8 million was spent on reconstruction. It was reopened officially again in 1999 so it would be a real shame for this building to cease being a courthouse.”
UUP Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy said he “totally disagreed” with the decision by his Executive colleague to close “an important symbol of justice in the Armagh area” and would raise it with him.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA Tom Elliott said that the closures were “deeply worrying”.
He said: “If these proposals are accepted the c ounty of Fermanagh will be left without a single courthouse. There is no doubt that this closure decision is a direct consequence of recent ill-thought out budgets.”
TUV leader and QC Jim Allister said that closing Ballymena Courthouse was “another blow for the area” with “ramifications far beyond the staff directly impacted by this”.
Mr Allister expressed his support for comments by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, who warned that the decision would have a negative impact on victims.