Justice Minister David Ford has refused to give reassurances he will do all in his power to secure an appropriate future use for Armagh Courthouse.
He was drawn on the matter by Newry and Armagh Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy in the Assembly this evening.
The Minister announced the axing of six courthouses – including Armagh – with a programme of closures to begin by the summer.
Mr Ford outlined in no uncertain terms the role of the Department of Justice.
Mr Kennedy had described the decision to axe Armagh Courthouse as part of a “grim statement” and urged the Minister to think again.
“I implore the Minister to reconsider his decision in respect of Armagh, given the impact that will have on the local economy,” said the UUP representative.
“In the event of his not being willing to do that will he, at least, give an assurance to me and to the House that, if the building is to be sold, every effort will be made to sell it to another Department or government body, including local government, and that an appropriate alternative use will be found for what is a landmark building in the centre of Armagh city?”
Mr Ford said he appreciated the local MLA’s point about what he described as a “landmark building”, but added: “The function of the Department of Justice is to provide access to justice, not to maintain landmark buildings.
“I have already said, and I will repeat the point, that the Courts and Tribunals Service will maintain all the relevant buildings until they are disposed of to others.”
The Minister again explained his rationale in closing Armagh Courthouse.
“The utilisation rate is 29·7%,” he said. “That means three half-days per week, on the basis that if even one case is heard, that counts as a half day. That is simply not sustainable.
“Of the business that was disposed of in 2014, criminal cases were down 3% on the previous year and civil cases down 51% on the previous year.
“That is the pattern across courthouses throughout Northern Ireland, and that is why it is simply not sustainable, in the face of all our financial difficulties, to maintain that estate.”