Dublin City Council intends to drop its prosecution of art group Subset for three prominent street murals – including one celebrating the life of David Attenborough.
However, the artists fear the council’s application, made days before the trial was due to get underway, was a costly “tactical move”, Dublin District Court heard today.
The prosecutions focus on three murals in Dublin - Think & Wonder, Horseboy and the Attenborough painting.
Subset contests charges of not complying with an enforcement notice to remove them and was set to face a hearing on Thursday and Friday.
However today Stephen Hughes BL, for the council, asked the court to strike out the case.
Michael O’Donnell SC, for Subset, said the art group was happy if this was the end of the matter.
But, he added, the court was entitled to know why it was discontinued. Mr O'Donnell said the court had given time and resources to decide on the matter, which involved a range of “profound issues” concerning freedom of expression and artistic expression.
Judge Halpin said it also came down to "what exactly a development is". Mr O'Donnell replied: "And the extent to which the council could control the expression of people."
He said the defence feared that the application to strike out the case might be a "tactical move" and "a forum shopping exercise", and his client could later face a new set of proceedings.
In reply, the council's barrister said the case was about unauthorised developments, "not a question of whether it is art or not". Mr Hughes also said the council was not required to give the defendants "any guarantee".
He added there had been "a number of these developments", and the council may need injunctions.
The defence also submitted it was entitled to its costs. Mr O'Donnell said over four years, Subset incurred "enormous expenses" preparing its defence, with evidence from architects and filmmakers about freedom of expression. Legal fees were the least of it, the court heard.
The trial will not proceed this week. Judge Halpin has now adjourned the case until September for submissions from both sides on the costs issue.
The Attenborough painting is on the gable wall of a house on South Circular Road facing Longwood Avenue in Dublin 8. It was unveiled on the naturalist and broadcaster's 93rd birthday.
The Horseboy mural is on a gable end just off Church Street, Dublin 7. It was inspired by a picture taken at nearby Smithfield Square by Australian photographer James Horan.
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.
However, planning enforcement officers who examined each mural held they were not exempt from needing planning permission.
Dublin City Council ordered their removal because planning permission was not obtained for the "unauthorised development".
Subset has had other artwork removed from Dublin city walls, including the Stormzy mural in 2017.