Dublin City Council has served a planning enforcement notice for multiple unauthorised development works at An Taisce’s headquarters, Tailor’s Hall – which is a protected structure.
Google Street View images show that in June 2022 the grounds next to High Street were empty. Today they have been paved over, spotlights installed, and tables and chairs with umbrellas put in. Signage has been erected on the black railings, as have five lampposts.
In its enforcement notice, issued in June 2023, the council gave a deadline of Friday 29 September for compliance.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says that by allowing these changes to Tailor’s Hall, the council and An Taisce have failed to protect the built heritage of Dublin city.
The building, originally a guild hall and more than 300 years old, is council-owned but is leased by An Taisce, a charity established to preserve heritage.
The council and An Taisce agreed to sublet the basement and ground floor to Liberty Renaissance Ltd – which opened a pub with two beer gardens on the grounds.
To do any work that changes the appearance of a protected structure, planning permission is needed.
Dublin City Council and An Taisce have failed to protect the building, he says. “I’m calling on Dublin City Council to revoke An Taisce’s lease,” says Flynn.
In February 2022, a council spokesperson said that the works were carried out under the supervision of council architects and were in line with best practice. Last week a council spokesperson said the council totally refuted that it played any role in “any unauthorised development that may have taken place at this property”.
Paul Clinton, one of the owners of Liberty Renaissance Ltd, says he isn’t sure yet what they will do next, in response to the council’s enforcement notice.
“We’re going through the itemised list,” he says. “We have taken planning advice and we’ve taken legal advice and we will have decided by the weekend.”
However, Clinton said he has received expert advice saying the works done to the building don’t require planning permission.
The council is also investigating whether a change-of-use planning permission was needed to turn the events space into a pub, says a council spokesperson.
The role of Dublin City Council
Tailor’s Hall was built in around 1706 and was the meeting place for the guild of merchant tailors.
The building became known as “the Back Lane Parliament” because it was used for political meetings – first by the Catholic Committee and later by the United Irishmen, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
In recent times the basement of Tailor’s Hall was used for weddings and community events. It has planning permission for community uses, for special events, according to the planner’s report from a planning retention application in 2010.
In 2021 and 2022, there was correspondence back and forth between Dublin City Council and An Taisce regarding the sublease to Liberty Renaissance Ltd, according to a schedule of records released under the Freedom of Information Act. Although, most of the correspondence listed in this schedule of records was not released.
In October 2022 the council received a complaint about potential works to a listed building – the “alleged repaving of the rear yard facing high street without pp [planning permission]”.
In February 2023, when the council was first asked about the conversion of Tailor’s Hall to a pub with two beer gardens, a Dublin City Council spokesperson said council officials were involved and that planning permission was in place for the works and to change the use of the building.
“The necessary planning permission for change of use and associated works was sought and granted and all works were carried out in accordance with best conservation practice with input from DCC’s Conservation Section and City Architects Department,” they said.
Last week a spokesperson for Dublin City Council totally rejected the idea that the council had had any involvement in any unauthorised works on the building.
“Dublin City Council strongly refutes and objects to any concern or implication made that we (Dublin City Council) have ‘participated in the conversion of the protected structure to a pub without planning permission’”, says a spokesperson.
“Dublin City Council has had no role in the carrying out any unauthorised development that may have taken place at this property.”
However, it is not clear what works – if any – were actually authorised, and whether the issue is that Clinton went beyond those, prompting the enforcement notice.
Because, in February, after saying planning permission had been sought and granted, the council spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for a link to a planning permission file for these works on Tailor’s Hall.
The planning permission file still does not appear in text or map searches of the council’s planning database online. So, if it exists, what it authorised is unknown.
The council enforcement notice issued in June lists 12 items that the council says constitute unauthorised development at Tailor’s Hall.
Those are LED lights, security cameras, a mobile horsebox used to serve coffee out of, picnic tables, a banner, five lampposts on the railings, paving in the internal courtyard/garden bounded by Back Lane, speakers, a statue in the garden, cables to run lights to a ramp, a TV, and a ventilation system for the manager’s office.
The original complaint regarding paving the grounds on the High Street side doesn’t appear on the list.
Clinton says his expert legal and planning advisors say that all the works he carried out are things that don’t require planning permission. “We’re exempt, that was my position, it still is my position,” he says.
He says Liberty Renaissance Ltd is still considering whether to remove some or all of the items.
He thinks some of the council’s grounds for enforcement are excessive, he says. As far as he is aware, the case law indicates that installing a television set in a protected structure doesn’t require planning permission, he says. “Our planning advisors said it’s exempt.”
He agrees that he installed five lamp posts on the railings on the High Street side, but he says those are not original, Georgian railings. “It’s not a period railing,” he says.
Lately, he says the An Taisce staff don’t seem to be interested in the debate around which items may or may not require planning permission. “An Taisce is monitoring the situation very, very closely,” he says.
What about the pub use?
It remains unclear whether changing from an events space to a pub is a change of use that requires planning permission.
In February 2021, Paul Clegg, an executive manager with Dublin City Council, wrote to Ian Lumley of An Taisce that the council agreed “to the creation of a sub-lease in favour of Liberty Renaissance Ltd in respect of a portion of the premises to accommodate restaurant/cafe and event uses”.
Tailor’s Hall Tavern has a full, seven-day publican’s licence, but Clinton says that it is not a pub because it is primarily a wedding venue. “It’s not a pub,” he says.
However, it was being promoted as a pub early on, after it opened.
“Time for the midweek special, and it’s very special. Very nice indeed! #guinness #guinnesdraught #loveguinness #dublin #pint #irish #pub #beer #cheers #slainte #irishpub,” said a January 2022 Instagram post from Tailors’ Hall, with a photo of two pints of Guinness on a bar, settling between pours.
Clinton also says that the building used to be a licenced premises. He sent an old picture from the Irish Independent archive, which shows a sign on the building which says “fully licenced lounge bar.”
Flynn, the independent councillor, says Tailor’s Hall “is associated with the United Irishmen and is a very special building”.
The built heritage of Dublin city is at risk due to over-development and he says that he thinks that the unauthorised development of Tailor’s Hall demonstrates that Dublin City Council and An Taisce are not competent to protect that heritage.
“An Taisce is unfit to manage that building,” he says. “They allowed this illegal development to happen.”
The use of the building as a pub is inappropriate, says Flynn and it doesn’t add anything unique in his view and therefore is not contributing to the culture of the city. “The idea that a public house is a cultural use is an insult to Dubliners,” he says.
An Taisce didn’t respond before publication to a query as to whether it is strange that a charity set up to preserve heritage, cannot prevent unauthorised development in a protected structure under its control.