Courthouse plea for Stormont

Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC
Ballymena Courthouse. INBT02-213AC

A delegation of councillors are bound for Stormont to plead their case for the retention of the under-threat Ballymena Courthouse.

The Department of Justice is proposing to axe eight of Northern Ireland’s 20 courthouses due to swingeing budget cuts.

Under the plans, cases heard at Ballymena Magistrates would then be transferred to Antrim Courthouse.

The plans – which are currently out for consultation – have been met with fierce opposition from all quarters, with elected representatives describing the move as a “blow to justice” for the borough.

And Mid and East Antrim Council is now taking the fight to save the facility directly to Stormont.

The NI Assembly’s Committee for Justice has invited representatives from local government to attend an evidence gathering event in Parliament Buildings to discuss the potential impact of the proposed closures.

At the latest meeting of MEA Council’s policy and resources committee, Cllr Donna Anderson proposed that chief executive Anne Donaghy should attend the event, along with TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston and DUP member Cllr Tommy Nicholl, as “they have been involved (in the campaign) since the start”.

However, Cllr Lynn McClurg proposed that the Mayor, Cllr Billy Ashe (DUP), should go in place of Cllr Gaston.

This was passed by a narrow margin of one vote (seven for and six against).

Ballymena basedUlster Unionist Cllr William McNeilly felt this was “not a fair representation”.

However, Cllr Gordon Lyons (DUP) said: “I think the delegation is made up of the right people.

“They are going to make a case on behalf of the people we represent, not to play party politics.”

The evidence gathering event will take place at Stormont on Thursday, July 2.

Opposition to the planned closure has been widespread with local solicitors claiming that it would result in more overcrowding in an already congested legal process.

It has also been pointed out that closure of the court house would put additonal pressure on the most vulnerable in society.