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Disputed statues to be returned outside Shelbourne Hotel

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One of the empty plinths

One of the empty plinths

One of the empty plinths

The girls are back in town - or at least they will be, after the Shelbourne Hotel agreed to return the four statues removed from the front of the building.

The statues, thought to have depicted two slave girls and the princesses they served, were taken down in July in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, the Shelbourne, which had the figures in front of the hotel since 1867, ran into trouble as the building is a protected structure.

Making changes of any kind that affect the character of a protected structure without prior approval is against the law.

Dublin City Council issued an enforcement notice, ordering the reinstatement of the statues and giving the hotel some weeks to respond.

In the meantime, a row broke out between historians, politicians, human rights activists and conservationists over the hotel's actions.

Complaints

Groups such as Irish Georgian Society and individuals such as former justice minister Michael McDowell made formal complaints about the removal of the statues.

One art historian, Kyle Leyden, took it upon himself to investigate the origin of the statues, which he found were never designed or sold as slaves and that the items thought to be shackles around their feet were decorative anklets.

Another historian, Donal Hassett, argued the statues were still inappropriate as they came from a time when women of colour were considered novelties and depictions of them were displayed as curiosities.

He said he hoped the plaque accompanying the statues when they were returned would fully explain their background.

The Shelbourne would not comment but Dublin City Council confirmed the hotel had undertaken to return the statues after refurbishment.