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The Attenborough painting on the gable wall of a house on South Circular Road, Dublin Subset via Twitter

Art collective seek legal costs after halted prosecution over street murals

Subset claimed it had lost money on legal costs when Dublin City Council dropped its case

A JUDGE WILL rule if a group of artists should be awarded legal costs in a halted prosecution over street murals in Dublin.

Art collective Subset feared that Dublin City Council’s application to drop the case, made days before the trial was due to get underway in June, was a “tactical move”, Dublin District Court has heard.

The prosecution focussed on three prominent murals in Dublin: Think & Wonder, Horseboy and one celebrating the life of David Attenborough. After the council told the court it intended to halt the case, the defendants submitted it was entitled to legal costs incurred preparing to contest the case.

It had been adjourned until today when the council said efforts to resolve that matter had been unsuccessful.

Judge Halpin adjourned it until February for a hearing to decide on the costs issue.

Subset had denied charges of not complying with an enforcement notice to remove the murals and was ready to face a hearing over two days in June.

horseboy-2-310x415 The Horseboy mural

But shortly before, the council asked the court to strike out the case.

Michael O’Donnell SC, for Subset, told the court his clients took the proceedings seriously and the case related to a “profound issue”.

The art group was happy if this was the end of it, and the court was entitled to know why it was discontinued.

O’Donnell had said the court had given time and resources to decide on the matter, which involved issues concerning freedom of expression and artistic expression.

Judge Halpin had said that it also came down to “what exactly a development is”.

O’Donnell replied, “And the extent to which the council could control the expression of people.”

The defence lawyer feared that the application to strike out the case was a tactical move and “a forum shopping exercise”, and his client could later face a new set of proceedings.

In reply, the council’s barrister said that the case was about unauthorised developments, “not a question of whether it is art or not”. The council replied that under law, it was not required to give the defendants “any guarantee”.

Its barrister added that there had “a number of these developments”, and the council may need injunctions.

Subset submitted it was entitled to costs; O’Donnell said over four years, the art group incurred “enormous expenses” preparing a defence involving evidence from architects and filmmakers about the issue of freedom of expression.

The Attenborough painting on the gable wall of a house on South Circular Road Longwood Avenue, Dublin 8, was unveiled on the naturalist and broadcaster’s 93rd birthday.

The Horseboy mural is on a gable end at Stirrup Lane, just off Church Street, Dublin 7.

The Think & Wonder mural appeared on the gable end of Granthams cafe, 5/6 Camden Market, Grantham Street, facing Pleasant Place, on the city’s south side in 2019.

However, planning enforcement officers who examined each mural held they were not exempt from needing planning permission. As a result, Dublin City Council ordered their removal because planning permission was not obtained for the “unauthorised development”.