Judge refused to leave Smithfield courtroom despite bomb threat

Susan Ryan defied order of man who claimed to have brought explosive device into court

The scene in Smithfield, Dublin near the Law Library where Gardai have sealed off access to the area due to a major security incident sparked by a man wielding what is believed to be an explosive device. Video: Kathleen Harris


A family law judge refused to leave a Dublin courtroom on Thursday when confronted by a man claiming to have a bomb and a gun.

Judge Susan Ryan of the Circuit Court was presiding over a list of 38 family law cases in Court 32 at Phoenix House, Smithfield, when at about 11.30am a middle aged man entered during a case involving his ex-wife.

He reached into a bag and took out what appeared to be a handgun and then opened his coat to reveal a device around his neck, which he said was a bomb.

The man began shouting abuse at his ex-wife and her solicitor. It is understood he was in dispute with his former spouse over access to their children, and felt particularly aggrieved with the woman’s lawyer.

He announced that everyone else except for his ex-wife and her lawyer could leave the court. The court registrar left to raise the alarm, but Judge Ryan opted to stay.

Security sources said the judge attempted to calm the situation while also telling others who walked unaware into the courtroom to wait outside.

“There was still people coming and going. It was during the call-over list so it was very busy. Whenever someone came in the judge told them there was no need for them to come in,” a court staff member said. “She decided she would retain some order in the place. She ensured others didn’t get involved.”

The registrar alerted a security guard, who pressed an alarm button connected to the Bridewell Garda station. He also ran across to the nearby Children’s Court to alert gardaí stationed there.

Sealed off

Members of the Garda Armed Response Unit happened to be on patrol nearby, and were at the scene within minutes. A portion of Smithfield was sealed off and the Luas service was stopped.

The man surrendered within half an hour after being told that armed gardaí had arrived. He handed over the gun and the device, both later determined to be fakes, and was arrested. He remained in custody on Thursday night.

The court was evacuated minutes later, and video footage showed the woman’s solicitor being escorted from the building in a highly distressed state.

The Army bomb disposal unit used a robot to perform a controlled explosion on the suspect device, and took the remains away for examination. By 3.30pm the building was reopened and court’s sitting resumed.

Senior gardaí and the chief executive of the Courts Service met on Thursday night to discuss an immediate review of security procedures at family court sittings.