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'You can't paint over a movement': Repeal mural removed from Temple Bar (again)

The Charities Regulator has defended its decision to say the Project Arts Centre could lose its charitable status if the mural remained.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

A REPEAL THE Eighth mural in Dublin’s Temple Bar has been partially painted over after the centre who hosted it was told it may lose its charitable status because of it.

Supporters of the artwork believe it will spark a conversation around the use of political art, as well as potentially encouraging those calling for a Yes vote to campaign more actively.

The Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar had previously painted the artwork on the side of its building in 2016, but it was found to be in violation of planning laws and was removed.

Earlier this month it returned to the side of the building, located on East Essex Street, as it fell under the category of ads for referendums and elections, meaning it did not require planning permission.

However, the Charities Regulator issued the centre with a warning last week  that it would risk losing its charitable status if the mural remained.

“The Charities Regulator has informed Project Arts Centre that the display of Maser’s Repeal the 8th artwork is ‘political activity’ and that we are therefore in breach of the Charities Act 2009 and not in line with our ‘charitable purpose’,” a statement from the centre explained.

The centre made the decision to remove the mural, which had been created and painted by world-famous street artist Maser.

0210 Cian OBrien painting over Repeal mural_90543081 Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

However, a statement issued today by the Charities Regulator said the determination to declare it a political advertisement rather than a piece of art was inadvertently made by the Project Arts Centre itself:

In its response to the Charities Regulator, the Project Arts Centre stated that it was facilitating the display of art and not engaging in political activity.  However, the Charities Regulator noted that on the charity’s website, the charity stated that it was relying on an exemption relating to political advertisements under the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, which enabled it to publicise the political advertisement without the requirement for planning permission.
By doing so, the Project Arts Centre had itself classified the mural as a political advertisement, as opposed to the Charities Regulator making that determination.

The regulator stressed that many charities who are campaigning on both sides of the referendum are doing so in a way that is compliant with legislation:

The Charities Regulator notes that there are registered charities currently campaigning on both sides of the referendum debate, which are doing so in compliance with their obligations under the Charities Act 2009 because they are advancing a political cause which directly relates to their charitable purpose.
The Charities Regulator considers that the charity trustees of the Project Arts Centre, by publicly displaying a political advertisement related to the Eighth Amendment referendum on the charity’s  premises using a planning exemption reserved for political advertising, are engaging in political activity that is not directly related to the advancement of the charity’s charitable purpose, which is the advancement of education.

A crowd protesting the need to remove the mural gathered at the scene, holding signs which read ‘You can’t paint over a movement’.

“We’ve made the decision, despite the very restrictive legislation, to take the mural down today,” artistic director Cian O’Brien told TheJournal.ie and who removed the mural, “but to begin a longer conversation around censorship and political art, and how artists actually engage with political issues when you have legislation like this that really shuts down any debate or conversation.”

O’Brien said the centre has a long history, dating back to the 1960s, of the engaging with political issues, and cited the mural as an example of how a piece of art can spark debate.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said the removal of the mural ‘raises very serious concerns for freedom of expression and freedom of association in Ireland’.

Liam Harrick, director of ICCL, said it raises ‘serious questions’ about the role of the Charities Regulator:

Does this apply to referendums only, or are we likely to see a much wider role for the regulator in relation to expression by organisations and institutions? There is a real danger that this action might lead to a complaints to the Charities regulator being used as a tool to harass civil society organisations.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik said it was a ‘shame’ in the context of the referendum  that the mural was being removed, but said it was important that the Project Arts Centre be fully compliant with the charity regulations.

DbdcOfyXkAARopa Source: Nicky Ryan/TheJournal.ie

“People are understandably annoyed, and feel it is a form of censorship of the arts, but censorship does take many forms and Project had to remain compliant with legislation.

I do feel as legislators, this event has really highlighted for us the need to revisit our legislation on charity regulation… to look again at definitions of political purposes and look at what charities can and can’t do legally.

Bacik said she hoped the event would ‘galvanise’ supporters of a Yes vote in the coming weeks of referendum campaigning.

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Nicky Ryan

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