Republic of Ireland news

Bill aims to resolve planning laws at heart of legal action against Subset

Sinn Fein's Eoin O Broin in front of a mural, on Longwood Avenue in Dublin, celebrating the life of David Attenborough by a collective of street artists known as Subset. The Sinn Fein TD has introduced a bill to the Dail that aims to settle legal issues around murals. Picture date: Thursday February 2, 2023.
Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

A bill has been introduced to the Dail that aims to modernise laws governing murals and protect “really beautiful and really important public art”.

The Public Art Mural (Exempted Development) Bill was presented to the Dail this afternoon by Sinn Fein.

The Bill has been developed in conjunction with the artists collective SubSet, who are at the centre of a long-running court dispute over three murals around Dublin city, which Dublin City Council said require planning permission.

One of their murals celebrates the life of Sir David Attenborough, Horseboy depicts a young person in a hoodie sitting on a white horse, while the Think And Wonder mural marked mental health month.

Under planning legislation, organisers of public murals need permission to paint on gable walls, which Subset has criticised as strict and outdated.

Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin, who brought the bill forward, said it aims to resolve the legal issues involved in the action against SubSet and will protect “really important public art”.

“So the legislation is very straightforward,” he told the PA news agency.

“What it does is it creates a new planning exemption, and if it were to become law, what it would mean is if a private building owner/ property owner wants to have public art on their building, they don't need a planning application subject to the following conditions.

“First of all, the public art or mural has to have artistic and cultural merit. That's a phrase or legal language that's used in other legislation like the Arts Council legislation.

“The second is it cannot be a commercial advertisement. There's a series of sections of the planning code which is for commercial advertisements. This is for art and culture, not for advertising products for sale.

“The other area is the public art could not conflict with the Equality Act. What we do not want is is the abuse of a planning exemption for hate speech, for homophobia, for racism, sexism, etc.

“What we're trying to do is craft a piece of legislation that facilitates good quality public art, but does still have some reasonable restrictions – there's another part of the bill which is there would be some requirements for planning applications in special areas of architectural conservation.”

He said that he is hoping the government will support it once the bill gets to the second stage, and asked that Dublin City Council reconsiders pursing its legal action until the process in the Oireachtas is complete.

He said: “In order to give the Oireachtas its due, I think the City Council should now allow us to go through that process before it decides to proceed.

“Because clearly, if we were to pass such a bill and have it enacted, then it really would make the current legal actions against SubSet a moot point.”

Dublin City Council has been contacted for comment.

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