Human rights concerns for “prisoners being escorted to court under the media and public glare” is one of the reasons for a new parking regime around the civic offices at Merchant’s Quay, according to a report presented to councillors this week.
The report by acting senior executive architect Margaret McEvoy was attached to a motion to extinguish a public right of way next to Limerick Courthouse.
The proximity of Limerick’s criminal courts to City Hall - and the negative impression it gives to tourists - has been a concern to councillors for years.
And while the courts complex is to be relocated, most likely to Mulgrave Street, no completion date has been set by the Courts Service.
Ms McEvoy’s report details a number of meetings held between council staff, the Courts Service, gardai and the Prison Service to address parking congestion in the area in the interim.
Pedestrian safety given the current “random access of vehicles” in one cause for concern. Others include emergency vehicle access; “the human rights of prisoners” and “the negative impression on both citizens and visitors alike in the main tourist area of Limerick city at King’s Island”.
While Limerick waits for a new courts complex to be built, the proposal is to agree a designated parking area for court staff; deploy security staff to control vehicular access in front of City Hall and the erection of barriers and bollards.
Prison vans, Ms McEvoy’s report outlines, could deliver and collect persons in custody with “some short term parking within the railed curtilage of the Court Houses”.
Councillors who this Monday approved the extinguishment of a public right of way to the side of the Circuit Court building were less concerned about the human rights of prisoners but did express a preference for keeping them out of the public glare.
“Whatever architect decided years ago to have a common entrance to City Hall and the Courthouse was wrong and I told them that at the time,” said Cllr John Gilligan.
“You could have Mike Tyson walking beside you coming into this place or you can see fellas smoking spliffs outside. That is not the way to promote decent citizenship.”
Cllr Maurice Quinlivan revealed that he made no appointments for people to meet him at City Hall on Tuesdays or Thursdays, which are busy days in the District Court.
“It is not a nice place for people to be. We have tour buses pulling up here and the first impression they often have of Limerick is of the garda cars and prison vans and people hanging around outside the court,” he said.
Cllr Michael Hourigan recalled the embarrassment of having to greet people on the steps of City Hall in such circumstances during his time as mayor.
“We need to get the garda and the prison vans out of there. There is no reason for them to be parked up outside City Hall all day,” he said.
Councillors were also assured that Curraghour Boat Club, which is accessed by the public right of way which is being removed, had been consulted on and were agreeable to the proposal. Its members could still access the club with a fob, councillors were told.
Removing the right of way, Cllr Diarmuid Scully, said was “a modest and reasonable proposal” but he warned the council must tread carefully in changing parking provision in and around City Hall.
He was particularly concerned that any changes to the Potato Market carpark - which is operated by the Limerick Market Trustees - could potentially strip the trustees of a cash cow and “bankrupt the Milk Market”.
Director of service Pat Dowling said there was no plan “to interfere with the Potato Market”.
What was being proposed, he said, was only the first step of a plan set out in the Limerick 2030 strategy for a new-look plaza in front of City Hall. Councillors have only this week approved a motion to rename it Brian Boru Square.
“At the moment, parking in the area is a bit of a free-for-all and not regulated,” Mr Dowling said.
He added it was the intention that prison vans could park “to the side of the courthouse and out of public view”.