Never has there been a more pressing need for appropriate facilities to mitigate the impact on families, of contentious family law and childcare proceedings in Ireland. The impact of covid-19 has left an indelible mark on family life, with existing fault lines exacerbated and many families struggling to navigate through already highly pressured situations. Unfortunately, the pandemic has seen a dramatic rise in applications to the family courts for a wide variety of matters. The volume of family law applications in recent times, has made the lack of appropriate services even more pronounced. The need for a purpose built family and childcare complex in the Dublin metropolitan area is now more apparent than ever.
In 2014, Frances Fitzgerald the then minister for Justice, announced that the site at Hammond Lane, sandwiched between Smithfield and the Four Courts in Dublin, was to be the home to a new purpose built family and childcare complex.
Successive governments have repeated identical soundbites and yet the complex remains unbuilt.
The District and Circuit Family Courts in Dublin are housed in buildings around the city that have been modified to accommodate court work, and they are not fit for purpose.
Dolphin House, the main Family Law District Courts in the Dublin Metropolitan District, located in Temple bar is a refurbished hotel. The facilities are very limited, and the result is that parties, involved in particularly contentious applications are forced to wait, in close proximity, to one another, for lengthy periods until their cases are called. There is very limited room for consultation, be it with support workers from domestic abuse refuges or legal representatives.
The Bridewell, the main Childcare District Courts in the Dublin Metropolitan District, located behind the Four Courts, is a refurbished Criminal Court complex, with custody cells beneath the building. The Bridewell was used to house the criminal summons lists in Dublin and also was the location of the city’s Drugs Court for many years.
Phoenix House, in Smithfield, the main Family Law Circuit Courts in the Dublin Metropolitan area, is functioning but the limited space available for the parties to wait in and the lack of a services for family law applicants to consult with their lawyers, is very pronounced.
For each party before the courts, whether they be, parents seeking custody of children, partners applying for domestic violence orders or respondent parent’s challenging the Child and Family Agency in Care Proceedings, they are all facing exceptionally traumatic and challenging experiences. It is essential that the state recognise this and mitigate the stress of this by providing families with the appropriate forum in which to resolve their difficulties, as best they can. Action is needed now to address this, and the completion of a purpose-built family law complex needs to be prioritised by this government, as the current suite of family and childcare services are inadequate and are failing families.