‘Crime on O’Connell Street’ is affecting performance of GPO museum, planning appeal hears

Inside the GPO museum

Gordon Deegan

A planning appeal by An Post has cited “the deterioration in the security environment” on Dublin’s O’Connell Street as one of the factors behind its underperforming “Witness History” exhibition at the GPO.

Planning consultant for An Post, Karl Kent has stated that “crime in O’Connell Street has been a particular focus of concern”.

Mr Kent made his comments in a planning appeal as part of a planning row concerning An Post placing two large marketing banners hanging from the GPO, advertising the exhibition at the GPO museum.

When the exhibition opened on the 1916 centenary in 2016, visitors totalled 160,833 but halved to 80,000 in 2019.

Last year, numbers deteriorated even further, with only 46,834 people attending the exhibition.

Mr Kent said the museum has been “struggling”, prompting An Post to secure a three-year planning permission for the banners that were first put in place in 2020.

An Post has now sought planning retention for its marketing banners advertising the exhibition for a further three years.

However, Dublin City Council has granted planning retention for only 18 months.

Commandant Daire Roache reads the Proclamation during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising at the GPO on O'Connell Street Dublin, Sunday April 17, 2022. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

An Post has appealed against this condition while Dublin Civic Trust has urged the appeals board to not allow the banners remain in place.

On behalf of An Post, Mr Kent of dk Planning and Architecture said that the management of the GPO museum believe the 18 months period for the banners to be in place “is too short a period in which the museum can recover its position following Covid-19 and particularly having regard to the other negative factors affecting O’Connell Street”.

Mr Kent cited the deterioration in the security environment in relation to O’Connell Street “as reflected in the perceptions of safety”.

He said that crime in O’Connell Street has been a particular focus of concern, even meriting an RTÉ Prime Time special programme in October 2022.

Mr Kent contends that the banners in the context of the general portico of the buildings are relatively small and the effect of the banners on the architectural character of the building “is very minor and transient”.

Mr Kent states that without the banners, the decrease in the number of visitors to the Witness History exhibition post Covid would almost certainly have been even lower.

Dublin Civic Trust CEO Graham Hickey has told the appeals board that “these marketing banners are visually obtrusive objects that disrupt the architectural effect and diminish the cultural and civic dignity of the GPO”.

Mr Hickey stated that the trust acknowledges the quality of the Witness History exhibition and the contribution it makes to the cultural enrichment to the city.

He added: “But this is not and should not be contingent on severely compromising its nationally significant building, counter to statutory policy.”

Mr Hickey said that the GPO building is “a national historic and cultural icon” and contends that “there is no credible argument that these corporate banners have anything other than a damaging effect on the special character of the protected structure and should be removed”.

A decision is due on the case in July.