Sunday, 22nd July 2018
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Waterford gets a new and lasting, modern seat of justice: which respects the traditional architecture of the venue, and protects the dignity of those who seek redress there.

Monday marks the official opening of Waterford Courthouse which has benefitted from an investment of €26 million in its refurbishment and extension. The opening was attended by Chief Justice of Ireland, Mr Justice Frank Clarke and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD. performed the opening ceremony. Also in attendance was a large number of members of the legal profession, gardai and elected public representatives headed by the Mayor of Waterford City and County.

The new seat of justice reflects and respects the importance of the work of providing justice; acknowledges the dignity and privacy of the people the court seeks to serve; and through its architecture and restyling, it reflects a relationship between old and new that is less one of contrast, but more one of a continuity; finding a successful balance between respecting context and identifying the new as new.

The newly opened facilities have underpinned and confirmed Waterford Courthouse’s status as a building of national importance – and the city as the South East’s hub of much business, commerce, human endeavour, education, living, and as a centre of court administration.

Speaking at the opening, which was also attended by the Chief Justice Mr Frank Clarke, the Minister said: "There’s no question but that the new extension to Waterford Courthouse is going to make a huge difference to those who use it. The new block is 6000 square metres, compared to the old courthouse’s just over 1000 and there will now be 6 courtrooms, compared to the previous 2. So whether a person comes here to work; to seek vindication; to face justice; or as a jury member to pass judgement, everyone will now enter a courthouse which integrates the old and the new, which is open and approachable, and which inspires confidence without being intimidating."

In 2016 alone, over 7,500 matters were dealt with by the District Court in Waterford across 209 sitting days. Another 634 matters, over 150 days, were disposed of by the Circuit Court sitting in Waterford and Dungarvan. Particular care has been taken in the project to provide appropriate facilities for all those who must attend the Court including victims and vulnerable witnesses.

The Minister added: "A lot of cases come before the Court each year, cases which represent, for a lot of the people involved, stress. A courthouse is a place where life-changing decisions can occur. It’s a place where complex and sensitive issues that affect people’s lives are dealt with. It can be intimidating and that’s why it is so good to see the additions here. The new Courthouse has a vulnerable witness suite, a victim support room, a legal practitioners’ room, as well as consultation rooms, a jury reception room, enhanced custody facilities and other support facilities."

Waterford is the fifth new or refurbished courthouse to be opened by the Minister in recent months following Drogheda, Letterkenny, Wexford and Limerick.

The Minister said: "Waterford Courthouse is part of a €2.25bn infrastructure stimulus programme which included the construction or extension/refurbishment of seven courthouses under the 'Courts PPP Bundle’. In terms of scale, the Courts PPP Bundle is the largest capital building project ever undertaken by the Courts Service, delivering a total of 31 courtrooms and 36,000 m2 of accommodation nationwide. I hope later this year, Mr Justice Clarke and I will be presiding over the completion of another two substantial refurbishments and extensions in Cork and Mullingar"

Address by the Chief Justice at the Official Opening of Waterford Courthouse

"I am delighted to be here today to welcome you all to the official opening of this wonderful refurbished and extended courthouse in Waterford.

There has been a courthouse on this site since around 1784, when James Gandon built a courthouse here, about ten years before he built the Four Courts in Dublin. This building lasted until around 1840 and the current historic building, designed by J. B. Keane was completed around 1849. The overall site of this new development is much larger than the site of the original courthouse. It incorporates land purchased from the local authority, formerly the site of a fire station. It also incorporates land which was owned by the Office of Public Works which was transferred to the Courts Service to complete this important project. I would like to thank the Chairman of the OPW, Maurice Buckley, for this and for his organisation’s assistance in this project. I would also like to thank Michael Walsh, the Chief Executive of Waterford City and County Council for the council’s cooperation throughout this project.

Being in the historic centre of Waterford City, the site was occupied long before the courts came here. This was clearly evidenced during construction when archaeological excavations uncovered an early medieval graveyard to the side of the building where the fire station was formerly located. This appears to be associated with St Catherine’s Abbey, dating from the 12th century, which was located in this general area in medieval times. An extensive archaeological excavation was undertaken and the results of this will be important in throwing more light on the early history of Waterford city.

The historic courthouse is a fine imposing building which had been refurbished in the late 1970s. However it still only had two courtrooms and this was a constant problem in a growing city with a Circuit Court and a District Court permanently sitting and the High Court regularly visiting.

The current project has resolved this capacity problem and there are now six courtrooms which should cope with the workload envisaged for the foreseeable future. As a result, the historic location of the courts in Waterford is secure for future generations.

The site and the existing historic buildings on it presented challenges to the architects and builders but this fine new building is a very successful solution to providing much needed additional court facilities in the city. It is a positive addition to the civic architecture in the historic heart of Waterford city. The improved space and light within the building, including a new round hall in the centre of the building, will help create an atmosphere beneficial to all who have business in the courts in Waterford.

This courthouse is part of a bundle of projects currently being completed under a Public Private Partnership contract with BAM. The first project completed was in Drogheda and that was opened last July. In February the new courthouses in Letterkenny and Wexford were officially opened, followed by the Limerick courthouse in March. Waterford will now be the fifth to be opened, and in the coming months we will also have new and refurbished buildings opening in Cork and Mullingar.

From the Courts Service I would like to thank the Chief Executive, Brendan Ryan, and Paul Burns the Head of Infrastructure Services, and the staff of the Estate Management Unit led by Cillian Smith and Simon Hall, and of the ICT Unit under Darach Green, who have worked over a number of years to bring us the wonderful building we see today.

I also want to thank the Waterford Courts Office staff led by Jack Purcell and David Morrissey and the local judiciary – Her Honour Judge Alice Doyle and His Honour Judge Eugene O’Kelly of the Circuit Court and Judge Kevin Staunton of the District Court – and the County Registrar Niall Rooney, who have worked on the arrangements for the move to the new premises. I wish you all well in your future work here.

I also thank the Courts Service’s Eastern Regional Office led by Marianne Cassidy for their input into the project.

I would like to thank the National Development Finance Agency, and the team under their Deputy Director Gerard Cahillane, for all their work in procuring and project managing this contract.

The Office of Public Works, through its Chairman Maurice Buckley and State Architect Ciaran O’Connor, have overseen the design and construction of this project. I would like to thank them and the Project Architect, Gerard Bourke, for their contribution.

I would like to thank BAM, through their Chief Executive Theo Cullinane, and all their staff and contractors for their work constructing this magnificent building. BAM will remain our partners in maintaining and operating this building over the next 25 years and we look forward to continuing an excellent relationship.

Finally I would like to thank Minister Flanagan for attending here today and for his, and his Department’s, ongoing support for this and other courts projects. I would like to thank Oonagh McPhillips as Acting Secretary General, and Conan McKenna and the staff of Courts Policy, for their constant support and assistance to the Courts Service.

I want to wish all court users in Waterford city and county well in their future work in this wonderful new building.

Waterford Courthouse - A Brief History

Waterford Courthouse dates from 1849, to a design by architect J B Keane. It is located on the site of the long-vanished 12th century Augustinian Priory of St. Catherine. The courthouse is listed as a building of national importance in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Set in mature parkland falling gently to a river on three sides, its granite neoclassical front façade is perhaps its most important feature.

Being in the historic centre of Waterford City, the site was occupied long before the courts came here. This was clearly evidenced during construction when archaeological excavations uncovered an early medieval graveyard to the side of the building where the fire station was formerly located. This appears to be associated with St Catherine’s Abbey, dating from the 12th century, which was located in this general area in medieval times. An extensive archaeological excavation was undertaken and the results of this will be important in throwing more light on the early history of Waterford city.

The original building had fallen into serious disrepair by the late 1970s, leading in 1977 to the necessity to demolish some two-thirds of the original Keane building. Only the front façade and the shell of the two courtrooms with their linking concourse remained. The present refurbishment has been careful to retain and enhance this core arrangement of spaces.

The kernel of the approach taken by the architects of the current project has been to re-instate the courthouse as a Neo-Classical "villa-in-parkland", honouring the original setting devised by Keane in 1849. The surviving form has been extended to the north, with four classically proportioned elevations.

The New Architecture:

The west and eastern planes of the existing building now restrain contemporary façades, thereby recreating what architectural scholars like to term "the solid closed cubic block of the Neo-Classical ambition" of courthouses of that era.

The new accommodation has met the challenge to create a design that must defer to, and not detract from, Keane’s historic set piece. It presents itself as open and approachable, while also projecting a gravitas appropriate to the administration of Justice as a solemn act.

The solution inspires confidence without being intimidating, is transparent and yet solid. Durable sustainable materials – granite, copper, glass and oak – are used throughout the complex, and were chosen to express a high-quality civic purpose, and to integrate sympathetically the new with the historical fabric.

Internally, accommodation is organised around a central light-filled rotunda space – a 4-storey atrium rising to a copper-clad clerestory drum. The rotunda animates the heart of the new "cubic block". This dramatic atrium is deployed to fuse the existing and new buildings into a legible whole. Universally accessible, this atrium now acts as the main public orientation space, open and non-intimidating. The complex becomes easy to read and move around, and one is unaware of the omnipresent onerous courthouse security measures.

Catherine Street – a New Axis of Activity:

The architects have created a new granite-paved public plaza on Catherine St on the site of the former Fire Station. It is designed to have a civic presence signalling itself as the new primary entrance, but without competing with the classical façade of the existing courthouse. The civic plaza establishes a setting for the new, fully accessible, main public entrance façade. The colonnaded expression of this façade acknowledges Keane's colonnaded portico to the south, (which is still an ambulant disabled entrance).

Overall, the approach taken has ensured that the relationship between new and old is less one of contrast, but more one of a continuity; finding a successful balance between respecting context and identifying the new as new. It has confirmed Waterford Courthouse’s status as a building of national importance.

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