Objection to Planning Permission - 4 Courts sign now

Objection to Application for Planning Permission

Development Erection of Railings in Front Portico of Four Courts Building.

Planning Application

Planning Authority: Dublin City Council

Applicant: Commissioners for Public Works

Type of Application: Permission

Objecting to the Planning Application: The Undersigned

To Whom It May Concern:

On 6th May public notice was given by means of a sign fixed to a pilaster of the Portico of the Four Courts that the Commissioners for Public Works wished to apply for permission to make alterations to the Four Courts Front Portico. These were, amongst other matters, the proposed introduction of gates and railings to run across the portico and the replacement of the current concrete paving with granite paving.

We wish to express our objection to these changes for the reasons outlined below.

Inappropriate Alteration to Symbol of Irish Justice
Justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided by this Constitution, and, save in such special and limited cases as may be prescribed by law, shall be administered in public.
Article 34, Section 1, Bunreacht Na hEireann


The Four Courts Building is recognised throughout the country as the primary symbolic representation of the Justice system in Ireland. It is commonly used as visual shorthand in media reports to accompany descriptions of the workings of the justice system, and of decisions of the courts. For most people in Ireland, the Four Courts Building is the Justice system.

The proposed alteration to the Portico will create a symbolic change in the relationship between the primary locus of the Judiciary of the Republic and the citizens of the state. The front door to the Four Courts is the symbol of the public's access to justice. It is the physical manifestation of the means by which the citizens of the Republic of Ireland can ensure that they can gain access to the events happening and decisions being made under that Seal of a harp. It is the promise of Article 34.1 (above) carved in stone and wood. To close it off is to symbolically shut the door to justice on the citizens of the state.

Ineffective design
The stated reason for the erection of the proposed railings in the planning application is that homeless people sleeping there at night "gives rise to additional litter and occasional graffiti. Because of this use, the portico has to be washed down each morning, and sometimes obstruction occurs in the mornings."

At the suggestion of Dublin City Council officials, the railings will not interact with the pilasters of the portico, but will be mounted some distance behind them. This leaves sheltered space under the roof of the portico where homeless people will continue to sleep, rendering the proposed design useless.

In addition, it should be noted that the railings will turn the Portico into dead space, which becomes a gathering place for wind blown litter, cigarette butts and other debris. A dead space quickly becomes neglected looking, and therefore attracts more graffiti and other undesirable uses than a regularly used one.

The effect will be to either require further washing down of the Portico or to allow the focus point of the Four Courts building to fall into disrepair. If the intention is to prevent the obstruction which sometimes occurs, it should be pointed out that it is already the Courts Service Stated intention to prevent any entry, at all, to the Four Courts Building by this door. This renders concerns about occasional obstructions moot.

Reasons Given Do Not Justify Alterations Proposed
As quoted above, the reasons stated for these proposals are that homeless people sleeping there at night "gives rise to additional litter and occasional graffiti. Because of this use, the portico has to be washed down each morning, and sometimes obstruction occurs in the mornings."

This is then, in effect, a plan to alter the main frontage of one of Ireland's most admired buildings, as well as symbolically alter the relationship between the Justice system and the citizens it represents, because Courts Service officials don't like tidying up the porch in the morning.

In addition, it is not appropriate for an office of the state to view some of its most vulnerable and ill-served citizens as inconveniences to be swept onto someone elses front porch. It should be noted that homeless people have used this portico for shelter for some 25+ years, without impacting negatively on the daily workings of the Courts. The proposed architectural interventions are disproportionate to the reasons given.

Damage To Outstanding Example of Architecture
The Four Courts Building, with its own long history and place in the wider history of the state, is located in a pivotal position on Dublins quays. The building is used throughout the world as one of the visual representations of Ireland, and Dublin- along with the HaPenny Bridge and more recently the Spire in OConnell St.

Closing off the railings will have a negative impact on the appearance of the Four Courts Building, and therefore on the full frontage of the quays.

It is worth noting that, following the reconstruction of the Four Courts after the damage inflicted during the Civil War a report issued from the Chief Architect for the Office of Public Works, stating specifically that "care was taken by retaining the architectural character of the facades, to preserve an outstanding example of the work of a master architect."

It seems perverse that even while this proud boast is highlighted as part of the permanent exhibition on display within the Four Courts on the history of the building, todays OPW should so signally fail to live up to its spirit.

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Shauna CamposBy:
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Petition target:
Dublin city Council

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