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Hotel investigated for planning breach in removing slave statues

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Controversy: The removal of the Shelbourne’s sculptures has drawn both praise and condemnation. PHOTO: STEPHEN COLLINS

Controversy: The removal of the Shelbourne’s sculptures has drawn both praise and condemnation. PHOTO: STEPHEN COLLINS

Controversy: The removal of the Shelbourne’s sculptures has drawn both praise and condemnation. PHOTO: STEPHEN COLLINS

The Shelbourne Hotel is facing a backlash over its removal of slave girl statues, with an investigation under way into suspected planning breaches and the move being condemned in the Seanad as idiotic and criminal.

But the hotel also continued to receive praise from members of the black community and immigrant support groups, who said presenting slavery as art without its brutal context was not acceptable.

Dublin City Council confirmed it was investigating possible planning breaches in the removal of the statues, which depicted two Egyptian princesses and their shackled slave girls and which had stood at the entrance of the Shelbourne since 1867.

The hotel is a protected structure and, by law, any works which would affect the character of a protected structure must obtain planning permission.

If a breach occurs, a planning authority may order any unapproved works to cease and for the building to be restored to its previous state.

Former attorney general and justice minister Michael McDowell attacked the hotel's decision in the Seanad, saying it was "nonsense" and he was "outraged" by it.

"There are two possibilities: that somebody actually made a complaint about them, in which case it's a response to idiocy, or, alternatively, that this was a corporate search for anything that could offend, which is another form of idiocy," the angry senator said.

"This is a protected structure. It's unlawful, it's criminal, to change it without planning permission and for a large multinational corporation to breach the law in this way, in an idiotic way, is wholly unacceptable.

"Our heritage is not to be torn down or removed simply because of the foolish notions of causing offence where no offence could possibly be reasonably taken."

But Dr Ebun Joseph, who lectures in Black Studies at University College Dublin, said she was surprised that the statues could be viewed as beautiful or that their removal required consultation.

"It's not nice to have to pass by a representation of a reprehensible part of your past all the time while others' ugly past are not shown," she said.

She said that if the statues were part of a display detailing the brutal truth about slavery, that would be fine, but on their own they did not represent the past truthfully.

Green MEP Ciaran Cuffe apologised for tweeting that public consultation should have taken place before the statues were removed.

"As an urban planner I should know that planning can suppress as well as liberate," he said in a later tweet.

Statues with links to slavery have become the target of Black Lives Matter protests abroad in recent months.

Some honouring figures who made their wealth from the slave trade have been removed or torn down.

The Shelbourne's statues did not come to negative attention here but were the subject of commentary in an Irish- American online news service in recent days.

The Shelbourne issued a statement saying it had removed the statues in light of recent world events and would find suitable replacements. It has not commented on the planning queries that have arisen since.

Irish Independent