Derryroe Ltd, a company owned by the McSharry and Kennedy families, who own the Herbert Park Hotel, last May applied to An Bord Pleanála for an apartment development on the site of 40 Herbert Park, where Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, the only 1916 leader to die in battle, had lived.
His grandson Proinsias Ó Rathaille had been campaigning for the preservation of the house, and in June city councillors agreed that a submission be made to An Bord Pleanála opposing its demolition.
However, the decision by Dublin City Council planners to recommend demolition to Bord Pleanála came just two weeks after city councillors had voted to add the building to the record of protected structures.
The council’s planning department advised the board to allow the demolition of the house, noting it was not on this record and had “no statutory conservation designations”.
However, it noted that in its letter to the planning board, both the Department of Heritage and An Taisce, as well as the councillors, were opposed to the demolition.
On September 8th the board granted permission for the demolition, on September 14th the councillors voted to add the building to the record of protected structures and on September 29th it was demolished.
Given that councillors knew from at least May that demolition was on the cards, the delay in seeking the building’s protection might seem careless.
In fact a motion to add the house to the record of protected structures has been on the council agenda since July 2019, but because of the way the council does its business, such motions are rarely reached.
Micheál Mac Donncha, who proposed the motion, had expected it would be taken at the council meeting in June, then July, but he says because of the curtailed meeting lengths due to the pandemic, it never made it. However, he hoped and expected the September vote would ensure the house’s preservation.
A motion calling for a building to be added to the record does not mean it will be – it simply means it will be assessed for its suitability for inclusion, although once a process is initiated the building is “protected” until this process is complete.
However, council management has previously warned councillors against trying to list buildings that already have permission for demolition, as the councillors leave themselves open to a costly legal claim from developers who have lost the benefit of planning permission.
Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust said the counter-argument was that the council’s conservation office twice tried to access the house but was denied. The council has confirmed solicitors for the developers “questioned the council’s right to interfere with property rights or with the integrity of the [Strategic Housing Development] process”.
Planning consultant Diarmuid Ó Gráda also argues the significance of structures often only comes to light after development starts, and it would be a nonsense if a developer could rely on planning permission to bulldoze a significant historical find, for example.
There are several arguments to be made that Derryroe jumped the gun: by not waiting for the outcome of the protected structures process, by starting work before time to seek a judicial review of the board’s decision had expired, by undertaking demolition outside the hours of work allowed in the planning permission.
Derryroe has not responded to successive queries. The council says it is still assessing what action it should take. What it clear is if many of those suddenly exercised about the O’Rahilly House had spoken sooner, things would certainly be less complicated.