Dublin is never boring and Dublin City regularly gets into hot water and often enough screws up big time. Something emerged again last week that had “Big Screw-up” written all over it, but is it that?

The Background: Street Artist Maser painted a big mural on the wall of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar about 4 weeks ago. It was a read heart that had “Repeal the 8th” written in it. To understand that fully, you need to know that it refers to the 8th amendment, which was added to the Irish constitution in 1983 and which says “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Supporters see it as a clause protecting life, but the flip side is that it makes abortion illegal by constitution. Now, abortion was always illegal based on Irish laws and that amendment wouldn’t have been needed, but the anti-abortion campaigners were worried back then that the other laws wouldn’t be strong enough. At the time 67% of the voters in a referendum were in favour of this amendment.

Many people’s views about abortion have changed, however in the last 33 years and these changed views do support the availability of abortion in Ireland either in a restricted number of situations/scenarios or in every situation. And since the Irish laws haven’t prevented abortions, but made it extremely difficult and emotionally stressful for women in Ireland to get an abortion by travelling to other countries, these laws are useless anyway.

Since 1981, the “Repeal the 8th” campaign has grown and become stronger and the website “The HunReal Issues”, which promotes women’s issues, has commissioned street artist Maser to create this mural in Temple Bar.

Dublin City received 50 complaints and then told the Project Arts Centre that they will have to remove the mural because it is against planning legislation. But it seems that legal situation is not crystal clear.

The Journal.ie writes “A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that class 12 of schedule two in part one of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 “exempts the painting of the external part of any building or other structure from requiring planning permission”.” So that means you do NOT have to ask for permission to paint the external part of a building, right? But then the Dublin City folks continued saying “Murals and other artistic designs require planning permission when applied to the external part of any structure.” I might be missing something here and maybe the key is in “painting” vs “mural”, but JUST with that information I can’t see how the law was broken.

What got me at first was that the Project Arts Centre said that they never experienced any planning legislation issues despite the fact that they regularly have murals on the side of the building. If a abortion related mural was treated differently by Dublin City than other murals, that would certainly not be ok.

But then I tried to “test” a few other angles:

What if Dublin City didn’t get any complaints for previous paintings? If they don’t get active UNLESS they get complaints, then the current situation is not censorship. – What if previous murals didn’t contain a political (or commercial) message but were just pieces of art? Then it would be more about an “ad” vs a pretty picture. – And how would I feel if someone put a big promotion on a building of an idea I was opposed to? Anti-abortion murals on house walls maybe? How tolerant would we then be?

And taking all this into consideration, I can see why this specific mural is different than someone painting a pretty flower pot on the side of a building.

The mural is the expression of a free opinion and the expression of opinions has to be protected by our laws, but there are MANY ways to express an opinion and not every way has to be allowed. So, I would have a serious problem if it was made illegal to express “Repeal the 8th”, but I don’t think if one path of expression was declared as not permitted.

And, to be honest, it couldn’t have come better for the Repeal the 8th campaign: Many people (including myself) hadn’t heard anything about this mural before Dublin City stepped in. Best PR ever! ;-)