A permanent Garda presence had been approved for the Phoenix House family court facility in Smithfield, Dublin just three days before a man held several people hostage there claiming to have a gun and bomb.
However, no garda was there at the time of the incident and a security guard had to run across to alert gardaí on duty at the nearby Children’s Court.
A major review of security measures at the family courts was under way on Thursday night following calls for action from lawyers and judges.
The brief stand-off was the third major security incident in Dublin’s family courts in three years. In December 2015, a family court judge in the nearby Dolphin House facility was punched by a litigant. In June of last year, a convicted murderer held a sharp object to the throat of his barrister as part of an escape attempt.
There have been repeated calls for tighter security measures at the family courts, which often deal with highly emotional cases, many of them involving domestic violence. The exact motivation for Thursday’s incident is unclear, but it is understood he was unhappy at a lack of access to his children.
“An expression of concern about security in court sittings had been voiced previously by both the judiciary and the Courts Service,” a spokesman for the Courts Service said.
The Bar Council, which represents barristers, issued a statement saying the recent violence is a cause of major concern.
“Issues of safety and security of barristers, and all those working in the courts system, are an absolute priority for the Bar and these matters have previously been raised with the Courts Service.”
Seán Ó hUallacháin SC, a former chair of the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland, said there had been a permanent garda assigned to Phoenix House, but this was withdrawn some years ago.
A spokesman for Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said that, along with a review of current security arrangements, plans for a new family courts complex are "at an advanced stage".
“The facilities at the planned new family courts complex will be state of the art with a series of different entrances and dedicated security screenings.”
Mr Flanagan said he noted the incident “with great concern” as the security of the courts and the safety of all who use them “is a matter of the highest priority”.
“The courts play a fundamental role in our justice system and must always be able to operate without hindrance,” he said.
Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman said it was important to ensure that judges are provided with adequate security when administering justice.
His Sinn counterpart Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said it was “quite worrying that somebody can get an imitaton firearm and a device into the family court buildings”.