Amid the babble of advertising plastered all over the city, sometimes there are banners that don’t look quite right, quite authorised under planning regulations.

Like the massive Sprite advert that briefly draped a building on the corner of Wexford Street and Kevin Street Lower this summer.

It was there one day, and gone soon after, without planning permission. Quick, before anyone complained, and before a fine could have been imposed.

How can the use of such unauthorised ads be stopped? And is it really even worth the trouble?

A Quicker, Easier Buck? 

In 2015, Dublin City Council received 152 complaints alleging unauthorised advertisements in the city. So far in 2016, it has received 83 complaints.

Under the Planning and Development Acts 2001-2015, all development, other than specifically exempted development, requires planning permission, according to the council’s press office.

In that case, have all these banners applied for planning permission? No chance, says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.

“There needs to be a proper advertising strategy [in Dublin],” says Flynn. “These things need to be demanded to be taken down in the first hour or two hours of them going up. There should be no allowance made.”

Says Labour Councillor Andrew Montague: “They’re trying to save money. They find it’s cheaper, quicker and easier.”

“It’s certainly a problem,” says Montague, who is head of the council’s planning committee. “They bring down the tone of an area and often undermine the other shops around.”

Walk of Shame

In mid-July, the giant banner went up over the Karma Stone pub on Wexford Street, with big green letters advertising the soft drink Sprite.

“Camden Street,” it read. “The first step on your walk of shame.”

Karma Stone said it couldn’t comment on the advert. It isn’t there anymore. But a Coca-Cola spokesperson said the advert did not have planning permission.

“We confirm that the banner was a temporary one (posted for two weeks) and, as such, did not require planning permission,” the Coca-Cola spokesperson said, by email. “It was erected in compliance with all necessary regulations.”

But according to a Dublin City Council press office spokesperson, there is no grace period.

There are some caveats for signs, such as election posters, signs for local cultural, sporting, recreational events and for-sale/let signs, that they must be removed within seven days of the event being advertised.

“Retention of such signs after the seven-day period requires planning permission,” said the spokesperson from the press office.

But this doesn’t apply to banners for soft drinks.

Acting Fast

An Taisce Heritage Officer Ian Lumley says big company advertisements are a problem frequently tackled by his organisation.

“What they’re doing is abusing the planning system,” says Lumley. “There’s no such thing as a grace period, but there is a time period between which a local authority becomes aware of these developments and the banner comes down.”

That’s the crux, says Lumley. By the time the advertisement is removed or enforcement proceedings occur, the banner has achieved its aim, with few repercussions.

“They [the council] have to enter a process of warning letters and enforcement notices,” he says. “In the meantime, the illegal development remains in place.”

Dublin City Council press office said it did not receive a planning application from Coca-Cola in respect of the Karma Stone banner on Wexford Street.

It can’t comment further, though, as the advert wasn’t flagged with it at all. “No complaints were received,” the press office spokesperson said.

Lumley of An Taisce says the organisation has tackled companies such as Coca-Cola and Heineken in the past in relation to unauthorised advertisements in the Georgian Quarter of the city, in particular.

But things move slowly, he said. “The planning system is very clunky. It’s each case, each building at a time. Companies are doing this for PR but we consider it illegal and damaging to buildings and the historic environment.  It should be regarded as a source of shame for these companies.”

On Mary’s Abbey near Capel Street, a plastic banner was on display in May advertising “Hookless Holiday Homes” in County Wexford. It covered street artist ADW’s work Hold Fast and was pinned to either side of the gable end of the building.

Hookless Holiday Homes did not respond to an email or call about whether the advertisement had planning permission. (There was nothing listed on the council’s planning website.)

“That’s Nothing”

In court, an individual or company can be fined a maximum of €5,000 for illegal or unauthorised advertising. In reality, the fines are less, says Labour’s Montague.

“The fines are very low, it’s only €150 a fine,” he says. “That’s all. That’s not a city council decision, that’s a national government decision. Even if you get caught, sure €150, that’s nothing.”

“I think there needs to be stronger national legislation,” says Montague. “You can spend morning, noon and night running around after people but if you’re just going to fine them €150 it’s usually ‘Grand, I’ll pay that.’”

As An Taisce’s Lumley sees it, the problem falls at the council’s feet. “I would say that the legislation needs improvement, but this is still a transparent breach of planning,” he says.

Lumley instead suggests tackling prosecuting both the advertiser and the owner of the premises displaying the advertisement.

“The fines are in no way proportionate,” he says. “But we have pointed this out legally, and this is what the city council could do, is [take] legal action …. against the property owner and the company using them.”

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Join the Conversation


  1. The college in Rathmines even does the same thing every year and nail guns a massive banner to the beautiful Town Hall building.
    End of the day – there is no respect in this country, but particularly Dublin, for ANY architectural heritage or basic urban design. Some beautiful buildings in Dublin City Center are treated as no more than hoarding for tacky advertising – look at Westmoreland street; supermacs, casinos etc., all allowed to ruin beautiful buildings left right and center, and sandwich boards littering the footpaths. However McDonalds was able to subtly integrate into the beautiful old town hall in Bray, but not destroy the building. So I think this is a particularly Dublin problem. You can see the rapid decline in once steadfast areas like Grafton Street and further south to the extent that the whole of Dublin is now a free for all.
    Shop signage in general has declined greatly as well – some shops only even have banners and not shop signs at all.

  2. This raises an excellent point. A lot of people don’t even consciously notice these things in order to report them, which I suppose is the point.

  3. Giraffe have some neck when it comes to illegal signage.

    See links below for saga to get removed. These are city wide.

    1. Why do fines not deter this company or others?

    2. Why are fines not made public?

    3. Why is there no annual audit of performance of litter wardens? Number of fines issued, paid, etc..League table comparing one council to next.

  4. I previously read that the very run-down Nokia ad still on the corner of O’Connell Street and the Quays never had planning permission.

    If I remember correctly, an application was made for a replacement and rejected. Does anyone know if I’m right about this?

  5. Whatever about illegal adverting the OTT use of roads signs, traffic signs and poles by DCC has become ridiculous and is adding to the proliferation of street clutter all over the city centre. DCC is its own worst enemy at times.

    I was walking along Parnell Street recently and literally 7 cycle lane signs had been erected in the space of 40 metres for a small stretch of a cycle lane. Was the one sign not enough or at least one every few hundred metres? There isn’t a single lamp post or streetlight in the city that doesn’t have some (usually unneeded) traffic sign hanging off it now. It’s getting worse by the year.

    There’s also a ridiculous number of poles for bus stops. It’s common to see a pole for Dublin bus, one for Bus Eireann, another for some tourist bus service, and then a fourth for the Air Coach all lined up one after the other. Could the one pole with 4 signs not have worked?

    My “favourite” is the two neon bus corridor warning signs that have been erected right in front of Trinity College and the other on the pedestrian island at the side of BOI College green (where those undergound public toilets used to be). Talk about going out of your way to ruin the view of two of the city’s finest buildings.

      1. But we all know this won’t be done. Look at all the extra clutter on Grafton St, College Green and O’Connell St over the past few years despite numerous soundings from DCC that it would be reduced. It’s just getting worse and worse each year. They say one thing but do another.

  6. Pretty woolly document it seems to me. Lots more ‘surveys’ and ‘investigations’ to add to the slush pile. No mention of actually fixing the broken foot paths and poor state of repair work carried out by DCC, or widening them.
    If they really want to improve footfall given the current weather you would think they would at least have mentioned more rain cover in the city. Likewise no mention of public toilets.

    They put a few new plant boxes near Christ Church – a few days later: soil thrown all over the footpath and rubbish thrown in them, needles as well no doubt. Nuff said.

  7. Most residents and workers around Mary’s Abbey and the Fruit Market Area love ADWs work ‘Hold Fast’, which features a pair of tattooed hands with hold on one hand and fast on the other. This was a tattoo many old Irish mariners including my two uncles (R.I.P) had on their hands. The cheek of them, coming up here from the country and covering a work of art with their ugly yoke.
    A big thank you is due to the Dublin City Council North Side Planning Enforcement Team for their diligent work in having that ugly yoke removed as soon as was legally possible. They have a tough job and are often damned if they enforce and damned if they do not. The elected Councillors should encourage and support them rather than treat them with the disdain; they sometimes appear to do. For example in that satellite aerial case, the Councillors should have supported their enforcement officers against the one-sided media coverage of that case.

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