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A mural dedicated to David Attenborough Subset

Art collective Subset settles legal cost row with Dublin City Council over murals

The prosecution centred on three murals in Dublin, including one that celebrated David Attenborough.

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL’S prosecution of an art group over three street murals in the city was struck out today after a judge noted they had settled legal costs.

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

The prosecution centred on three murals in Dublin: Think & Wonder, Horseboy, and a mural celebrating the life of David Attenborough.

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

After the council told the court it intended to halt the case, the defendants submitted it was entitled to legal costs, having incurred “enormous expenses” in preparing to contest the prosecution.

However, the council resisted the application and the case was adjourned to allow discussions between the two sides over the costs issue.

Today, Judge Anthony Halpin noted an agreement had been reached and he struck out the prosecution.

Subset had contested charges of not complying with an enforcement notice to remove them and was ready to face a hearing over two days in June. 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, he said.

O’Donnell 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 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 that 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 been “a number of these developments” and the council may need injunctions.

The final outstanding issue was Subset’s submission that it was entitled to its costs. O’Donnell said over four years, the art group had “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 Houseboy 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.