Tougher penalities needed to protect our architectual heritage

30 October 2008

by Cllr Joe Costello

The need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to take appropriate measures to ensure that Churches that have been deconsecrated are secured and maintained as part of the National heritage and that those who perpetrated the vandalism on the Methodist Church, Jones Road, Dublin 3 are prosecuted and made restore the Church.

The destruction of the old Methodist Church on Jones' Road Dublin 3 was a scandalous act of vandalism. The beautiful old Church was demolished at 6.00 o'clock in the morning on 15th October by a bulldozer. The previous day Dublin City Council had placed an enforcement order on the building last night to prevent the building from being demolished.

Local residents are aghast that such an act of destruction could be perpetuated in their community in the early hours of the morning. It was thought that this type of deliberate vandalism of our architectural heritage had ended long ago.

The Church has been all but destroyed. Dublin City Council have now taken responsibility for securing the building and assure us that they will do their best to ensure that this work takes place without any further destruction or demolition. But the future of the Church is still uncertain.

The culprits must be pursued through the courts for this wanton and illegal act of vandalism. The maximum possible penalties should be imposed in this case and part of the sanction should be to require the guilty party to reconstruct the Church brick by brick.

There are a number of deconsecrated churches throughout the City in prime locations. Greedy developers should not be allowed acquire these properties at knockdown prices and to demolish the churches with no regard to the planning laws. The Planning Laws are completely inadequate to deal with such cases as the maximum fine in the District Court is €1,904.

In 2006 a developer illegally demolished the Presentation Convent on Terenure Road West. Despite being ordered to reinstate this building the developer failed to do so. They were eventually taken to court where they were fined only €1,000 for a site which they had paid over €15 million. When the penalties for demolition are this minuscule it is no wonder that the owner of the Methodist Church site had no hesitation in ordering its demolition despite having no approval to do so.

The Church on Jones Road was not on the record of protected structures and Dublin City Council must account why this is the case when clearly the building is of significant architectural value. Local Authorities can refuse permission where the developer is not in compliance with a planning permission. This penalty needs to be tightened up and made much more secure so that local authorities can refuse planning permission where a developer has been convicted or received an injunction for any breach of planning legislation.

The Minister must ensure that Local Authorities conduct an audit of all such churches with a view to listing them on the Record of Protected Structures. The Minister also needs to give a commitment that the law will deal with those who flout the law and ensure that the penalties are a real deterrence to developers taking the law into their own hands.