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Family courts complex: Almost 30 years after the State bought the Smithfield site, plans are finally published

The complex of 19 court rooms is to be built on a derelict site beside Dublin’s Four Courts

Plans for the construction of a purpose-built family court complex on a vacant Dublin city site bought by the State almost 30 years ago have finally been published by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The Dublin Family Court complex will be constructed beside the Four Courts on a large derelict site in Smithfield bordered by Church Street, Hammond Lane, Bow Street, and the Red Luas line.

The complex of 19 court rooms will replace the existing fragmented facilities for family law at Dolphin House, Chancery Street, Phoenix House and the Four Courts. The building, which will rise to six storeys, will include consultation spaces, staff and judicial accommodation, public waiting areas, space for mediation and domestic violence support services, accommodation for legal practitioners, and custody facilities.

The development of the complex, expected to cost more than €100 million, has been dogged by delays since the site was acquired by the State in the late 1990s. The OPW bought the site of the Maguire and Paterson match factory at the corner of Hammond Lane and Church Street for £4 million, outbidding several residential and office developers.


In December 2014 the then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald said the complex would be delivered as part of a public-private partnership, with expected completion in 2020 at a cost of about €40 million.

However, early in 2019, the scope of the project changed, with a new Supreme Court facility added and the expected cost jumped to €140 million. The Department of Justice had budgeted a maximum of €80 million for the project and in mid-2019 the then minister for justice Charlie Flanagan ruled out meeting the increased costs, although he said he would like to see the project go ahead at “the earliest opportunity”.

The same year the OPW avoided paying the Vacant Site Levy by renting the land to developers of an adjoining site as a building compound. The site was vacated by the developer last November, the OPW said.

In mid-2020 the decision was taken not to proceed with the Supreme Court element, bringing the costs back to €80 million. However, construction inflation since then means the project is likely to cost more than €100 million.

In June of last year a preliminary business case for the family court complex was approved by the Government, with the project to be delivered as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) bundle along with two rural Garda stations. In May this year then acting minister for justice Simon Harris announced the Garda stations in Cork and Tipperary would be “decoupled” from the courts project, which would “substantially reduce” their timeline for development. Building of the Macroom and Clonmel stations would start next year using traditional exchequer funding and the new family court complex would proceed as a stand-alone PPP.

Revised approval in principle to proceed with Hammond Lane PPP project was granted by the secretary general of the Department of Justice last June. The procurement and construction stages of the project will be undertaken and managed by the National Development Finance Agency and it is anticipated construction will start in 2026 with the complex due to open in 2028.

Submissions and observations on the proposed development can be made to the OPW by January 9th.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times