The vast majority of the Courts Service's facilities - over 80% - are protected structures which date from the middle of the nineteenth century, but it's planned to have more than 100 courtrooms video-enabled by year end.

It comes on the back of a result of a €2.2m investment.

Angela Denning, CEO of The Courts Service, told the Oireachtas Justice Committee today that she oversees 251 courtrooms, located in over a hundred venues.

"Remote is a leveller," she said, adding that it makes the judicial process easier for some.

Ms Denning said the service has also "dramatically increased the use of videolink to prisons" which has delivered "significant benefits".

There were "19,000 video links between court houses and prisons" in the new system's first 12 months, she said.

In the previous year, there had been just 2,500.

However, the committee heard that poor facilities had caused serious problems, even provoking outbursts of violence.

Barrister Mema Byrne said the "lack of appropriate facilities significantly increases stress and anxiety... and volatility".

She drew attention to a basic technological shortfall - the lack of adequate broadband in courthouses - saying it "urgently requires action".

"[In] particular litigants are faced with wholly unsuitable and inconsistent court facilities, where... even basic needs are not met", she told the committee.

"While the introduction of remote hearings has greatly assisted stakeholders", Ms Byrne said that the Bar Council believes that "in-person hearings are essential for the majority of cases."

The Bar Council said people who lack either a personal device or private space are not being facilitated to participate in remote hearings.

This too needs urgent action, Ms Byrne stressed.

While modernising, the Courts Service has to drastically reduce its carbon footprint, and increase the quality of insulation, Ms Denning said.

This means that it is facing a significant challenge, and substantial funding will be required.

Some "extremely old" buildings have yet to be upgraded to "facilitate access to services for physically disabled people", she said.

As to weathering the pandemic, "we haven't had to our knowledge an outbreak in a courthouse", she noted.

Ms Denning said The Courts Service website gets 3 million hits a year, from a wide variety of users.

Next year they intend to prioritise plain English, for ease of access.

She told Lynn Ruane, Independent Senator, that the just-a-minute card – or JAM card – is now available.

It comes as a physical card or a smartphone app, and allows users to display text including "I have autism", "I have a condition" and "I have a brain injury".

Nearly three-quarters of Courts Service staff have received JAM card training, she said.

Labour TD, Brendan Howlin, noted that some courts were used just used once a month which is a waste of resources.

Asked if she knew what the "optimal number" of courthouses was, Ms Denning said that work was underway.

"97% of the population are within one hour drive of a County Town Courthouse", she said, citing improved roads as a major factor.

"Most are within 30 minutes drive of a District Court Office or a County Town Courthouse".

Dympna Kenny, General Manager, Victim Support at Court, suggested "staggering court closures, particularly during August and September".

This would ease with congestion, she said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher asked how much was spent on refurbishing Letterkenny courthouse.

Ms Denning replied that this figure was €20.6 million.