Blackout paint covers the windows of Mend, a former car showroom in Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6, that has been reimagined as an art centre and a performance space.

There is a coffee and food court on front of the building. It is there where I met one member of SUBSET, an artistic collective being prosecuted in the courts by Dublin City Council (DCC) over three striking street murals on walls. 

We go inside the semi-dark former showroom to meet another member of SUBSET. I sit down on a swivel chair under a single spotlight. 


Mend is a rare oasis in an area once noted as the home of the Classic Cinema, which has been pulled down and replaced by a wall of nondescript apartments. SUBSET is one of a number of community members who are minding the old showroom temporarily, until a new use is found for it. 

Neither of the two members of SUBSET want to be named in this article; both prefer to let the art produced by the collective do the talking.

They both admit they are exhausted from trying to stand up to the council, which only last week launched a fourth action against them under Section 160 of the Planning & Development Act 2000. 

In this latest action, the council explicitly warned them that they will be expected to pay any costs associated with the action if they lose.

In recent days, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise funds to fight the multiple court actions being taken against them by DCC. They consider the litigation an attempt by the council to become the arbitrator of what is acceptable art on the walls of buildings in Dublin. Their campaign plans to raise funds and awareness through a series of exhibitions and initiatives.

A picture of David Attenborough on the gable end of a house on Longwood Avenue off the South Circular Road

At the centre of the prosecutions being taken by DCC are three artworks. The first features David Attenborough on the gable end of a house on Longwood Avenue off the South Circular Road in Dublin 8. The second is called Horse Boy on Stirrup Lane in Dublin 7, and the third is on the side of a run-down building on Grantham Street, D8, where the piece is called Submission-Control. 

In each case, DCC has given SUBSET until this Friday to remove all three artworks, or face prosecution in Dublin’s Circuit Court.

Will you be removing them all this Friday? “We don’t know yet,” one of SUBSET replies. “We have until Thursday (today) to decide what to do.”

Subset has appointed John Gaynor & Co Solicitors and junior counsel Michael O’Donnell to represent it. AM Town Planning has also produced a report in its defence. All three are acting on a pro bono basis in defending the artistic collective.

“We’ve put every ounce of energy into getting this far. It is a mammoth task trying to defend ourselves,” one of the co-founders of SUBSET said. “We have fought it every step of the way because we don’t believe the council should become the arbiters of art in our city.” 

In their fundraising campaign, SUBSET expands upon this argument in explaining what is riding on the case for them.  “We face costs, fines, prosecution or imprisonment,” it said. 

“The process of public art will be further driven by bureaucratic, systematic and unimaginative ideals. City Councils will cultivate further control of our culture and our cities will lose part of our soul.”

While it is unlikely the collective would be imprisoned for its stance, it is not impossible if they lose their various cases and refuse to pay any of the fines and costs associated with doing so. 

As it is, SUBSET believes it may not survive beyond June 2022 when their cases are due to be heard. “We have been working for five years to contribute to art and culture in Dublin. It is about creating art to get people to think,” a member of SUBSET said. 

“This is about control more than anything else,” he added. “Control by DCC of what artists in Dublin are allowed to create (on murals). It can feel like we are in an episode of Fr Ted at times it is so ridiculous what is happening, but it is not, it’s so serious. It’s a joke.”

“We have respect for what Dublin City Council is trying to do in Dublin. We have tried to engage with them to try and reach a happy medium (common ground) but they don’t want to do that,” the member said.

Subset said it wanted Dublin to take a similar approach to Sydney. “Artists there are permitted to create whatever they want provided they had the permission of the property owner; it was not a protected structure; and the artwork was not offensive – racist, derogatory, defamatory, obscene and so forth,” one of its members explained.

SUBSET admitted its artwork on Grantham Street in Dublin 8 had been put up unknowingly on a protected structure without planning permission. “Look what was there before,” it said. “The wall was covered by graffiti and flaking paint and Dublin City Council weren’t concerned.” 

“But suddenly when art is put there, they become concerned. What are they protecting exactly? There needs to be clarity in respect of the features of the building and characteristics of the surrounding area, and how the artwork is at odds with them.”

SUBSET said it had been able to work with DCC in the past on specific projects, but it was not prepared to back down when it came to giving up artistic control to the council. It said it had spoken to TDs and local councillors about amending legislation to ensure that art was exempted from planning rules giving them the freedom to create art without needing the approval of the council through the lodging of a bill to the Dáil, with the intention of having murals categorised as exempted development.

SUBSET said it had received support from the public, but when it came to businesses or wealthy individuals nobody was prepared to put up funds to back them. 

“There is a lot of lip service in support of art in Dublin,” SUBSET said. “We appreciate that people love the artwork, but nobody has been prepared to support us financially as we fight for them. We’re all in either way, it would just be a game changer if we were properly equipped. DCC is in a totally different position, it would be nice to balance the scales.”

The Currency submitted a number of questions to DCC in relation to its actions against SUBSET. 

These included questions about whether the council intends to pursue SUBSET for its costs if it wins, if it had considered mediation rather than suing SUBSET multiple times, and how it will it determine what is considered acceptable versus unacceptable art in Dublin. DCC acknowledged these questions but had not responded at time of publication.