On Smithfield Square there are two three-storey redbrick Victorian buildings with boarded-up windows.

Numbers 6 and 7 Smithfield Square, which sit between the Generator Hostel and the Children’s Court, were built-in the late 1800s.

They used to be home to the Dublin Traffic Court and are still owned by the Irish Court Service.

“The buildings have been vacant since circa 1995 and over the years fell into a state of significant disrepair,” says a response from the Courts Service issued to Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan.

Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe says that public bodies should be held responsible for contributing to urban degeneration.

He says he can understand a building being empty for one or two years but 27 years is just unacceptable. “Personally I think heads should roll over these things.”

A spokesperson for the Courts Service says that it is in the process of renovating the buildings, investing in them and bringing them back into use.

In recent years, the Courts Service spent around €800,000 upgrading and replacing the roof and pointing of the facade of the two buildings. This year, it is spending around €255,000 to replace the windows, says the spokesperson.

“Significant issues remain with the internal fabric of the buildings which will be remedied as funding becomes available,” he says. “The building has not been forgotten and is being maintained and invested in.”

Cuffe says that if the Courts Service can’t turn the project around fast it should hand the buildings over to the council to convert them into housing.

Suitable for Housing?

Cuffe, who is also an architect, estimates that the two buildings could accommodate between six and 12 apartments.

Smithfield is the perfect location for housing, he says. “It is close to the Luas line, schools, shops and churches.”

If the council can’t do the job quickly then the state should find a partner that will, even if that is a private company, he says. “Whoever would be best to bring them back into use in a timely manner.”

But the Courts Service isn’t giving up on 6 and 7 Smithfield just yet. It has its own plans.

“The Courts Service buildings in Smithfield Square have not been used for a number of years as they are unsuitable and unsafe for court use at this time,” says the spokesperson.

When the Courts Service was established it inherited a lot of old buildings, he says.

“We have invested heavily in bringing many of these buildings back to their former glory, and incorporating world-class court facilities.”

“The aim is to bring the buildings back into use by the Courts Service,” says the spokesperson.

The windows still need to be replaced and “the interior of the buildings is in a very poor condition and requires complete refurbishment”, says the Court Service response to Hourigan, the Green Party TD.

Spotlight on the State

There are lots of publicly owned buildings in central parts of Dublin left unused, says Cuffe, and this is bad management.

The HSE owns the Royal City of Dublin Hospital at Baggot Street and Adelphi House at 153 North Circular Road, he says. Dublin City Council owns the former Bolt Hostel at 38/39 Bolton Street.

“Yes there are private developers that let buildings rot, but the state is equally good at this,” says Cuffe.

He has written to the Office of Public Works (OPW) to ask it draw up an inventory of all the vacant publicly owned buildings in the city.

A spokesperson for the OPW provided a list of vacant buildings it owns in Dublin. They include a former Garda Station in Dalkey, which it intends to sell at a public auction, and another Garda Station, in Kill o’ the Grange, which it plans to transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

The OPW also owns a vacant building at 10 to 11 Castle Street, and the former debtor’s prison at Halston Street, for which it is examining other possible state uses, a spokesperson said.

The OPW owns 44 and 45 O’Connell Street too, which are also vacant, the spokesperson said. They’re considering transferring those to another state agency or selling them, they said.

It is often complicated and expensive to renovate old buildings, says Cuffe, but public bodies need to remember that the buildings are still assets.

“Leaving state buildings empty since 1995 is at best regrettable,” he says. “At worst, it shows a scandalous mismanagement of a valuable state-owned resource.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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