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Culture Minister asked to intervene in controversial removal of slave statues from outside Shelbourne Hotel

Four bronze statues depicting two Nubian princesses from the lower Nile and their slave girls holding torches were recently removed.

Updated Jul 29th 2020, 5:10 PM

SENATOR MICHAEL MCDOWELL has called on Culture Minister Catherine Martin to get involved in the controversy over the removal of four statues from outside Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel.  

Dublin City Council has said it is investigating the removal of the statues for potential breaches of rules around listed buildings, but McDowell has said the minister should make a statement on the matter. 

Four bronze statues depicting two Nubian princesses from the lower Nile and their slave girls holding torches were recently removed from outside the historic hotel. 

The statues, which included two manacled slave women, stood on top of plinths outside the Shelbourne and were taken down on Monday following recent removals of statues abroad in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. 

In response to their removal, the Irish Georgian Society expressed concern saying the hotel required planning permission considering it is a protected structure. Any alterations to protected structures require Council approval, including planning permission. 

“Further to reports and in the interests of clarity, the IGS was not consulted about the removal of statues from The Shelbourne Hotel,” the Irish Georgian Society said yesterday. 

“Such works require planning permission which we believe was not sought. The IGS has contacted DCC Planning urging them to address the matter.”

Speaking in the Seanad earlier today, McDowell said he was “outraged” by the removal of the statues and that they represent “an integral part” of the front of the building. 

“This is nonsense. There’s there’s two possibilities, that somebody actually made a complaint about them, in which case, it’s a response to idiocy. Or alternatively, that this was a result of a corporate search for anything that could offend, which is another form of idiocy,” McDowell said. 

The former tánaiste said the building is a protected structure and that removing the statues without permission was “unlawful”, adding this was done by “a large multinational corporation”. 

He went on to ask the minister and Green Party deputy leader to intervene:

I would ask that Minister Catherine Martin, who is the minister with responsibility for culture, she should come to this house and use it as a forum to explain that our heritage is not to be torn down or removed, simply because of foolish notions of causing offence, where no offence could possibly be reasonably taken.

Permission 

Dublin City Council confirmed to TheJournal.ie that is “not aware of permission being granted to remove the statues concerned.

“The matter is under investigation by the Planning Enforcement Section and therefore no further comment can be made on the matter at this time,” said a spokesperson. 

The five-star Shelbourne Hotel has been situated on St Stephen’s Green since 1824 and underwent a €40 million renovation programme between 2005 and 2007 . The facade of the hotel was restored in 2015 and 2016. 

Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe, meanwhile, said that instead of the statues being removed there should have been “a period of public consultation” about it. 

Cuffe later apologised saying: “As an urban planner I should know planning can suppress as well as liberate, my bad.”

Recent months have seen a number of controversial monuments removed worldwide, most notably those relating to the slave trade including the toppling of a statue depicting slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.  

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The Shelbourne Hotel has been contacted for comment. 

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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