Council investigates removal of slave statues from Shelbourne Hotel
Dublin City Council says decision was made apparently without planning permission
Empty plinths outside the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin after the statues were removed. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
The statues of two Nubian princesses and two slave girls were removed by the hotel on Monday.
Hotel management said on Tuesday they took the decision in light of world events and the black lives matter movement which has called attention to the legacy of slavery around the world.
In a statement on Wednesday Dublin City Council said it was “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.”
A council spokeswoman confirmed that the facade of the building is a listed structure and the purpose of the investigation will be to ascertain whether or not the hotel broke the law by removing the statues without informing the council first.
Senator Michael McDowell suggested it was “unlawful and criminal” to alter the façade of the Shelbourne Hotel without planning permission.
“For a large multinational company to breach the law in this way is wholly unacceptable,” he told the Seanad during the order of business.
Senator McDowell, a former Minister for Justice and attorney-general said if the statues were moved following a complaint, it was a “response to idiocy”.
If it was part of a “corporate search for anything that might offend, it was another form of idiocy”.
Senator McDowell said the Shelbourne Hotel statues “give no offence to anybody reasonable”.
He urged the minister with responsibility for heritage, Catherine Martin, to come to the Seanad and stop the tearing down of structures “because of some foolish notion of causing offence where no offence could possibly be found”.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Hazel Chu said the Shelbourne Hotel needed to comply with planning law.
However, she was puzzled that the statues were “now a hill on which some of my colleagues are dying on at the moment” when many had never noticed them before.
“If the Shelbourne Hotel had enough of a cop on that slavery symbols are bad and they wanted them removed, I don’t really understand what the fuss is at the moment. They obviously thought this was the right thing to do.
“Even they (the statues) are not overtly racist and supposedly portraying slavery as such, if some people take offence, that is something we have to ask and talk about.”
The Irish Georgian Society said it had lodged a complaint with the council about the removal of the statues.
It tweeted on Tuesday night: “Further to reports and in the interests of clarity, the IGS was not consulted about the removal of statues from The Shelbourne Hotel.
“Such works require planning permission which we believe was not sought. The IGS has contacted DCC planning urging them to address the matter.”
Dublin City Councillor Deirdre Conroy said the removal of the statues was a breach of Part Four of the Planning Development Act 2000.
Cllr Conroy, who is an architect and a conservationist, has written to the planning executive and the conservation officer in the council about the removal.
She said the facade of the Shelbourne Hotel including its statues are a listed structure and therefore cannot be amended without permission from the council.
She said many householders are being refused planning permission to remove railings from outside their homes.
“Dublin City Council would not allow a 19th century pedestrian gate to be changed. The idea that the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green would be allowed to do that is just ridiculous really,” she said.
Cllr Conroy said under Section 57 (2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 the owner of a protected structure such as the facade of the Shelbourne Hotel has to make a written request to the planning authority for an exemption application.
“It would take three months at least for the conservation application department to make an assessment of a Section 57 application.”
Green Party MEP Ciaran Cuffe, who is also an architect, said a period of public consultation should have taken place before such a “significant step” was taken.
The former Irish Times environment correspondent Frank McDonald accused the hotel’s US owner, Kennedy Wilson, and its operator Marriott Hotels of trying to bring “cancel culture” from the United States into Ireland.
The Shelbourne Hotel has been asked for comment.