An Bord Pleanála has given the go-ahead for plans to demolish a building that houses the well-known Unicorn restaurant on Dublin’s Merrion Row to make way for rental apartments and a new restaurant.

The Italian eatery has operated on Merrion Row since 1938. In giving the green light to Aviva Life and Pensions Ireland DAC, the appeals board concluded the scheme would not seriously injure the visual amenities of the area or detract from the character and setting of the south Georgian core of the city.

The board also granted planning permission after concluding that the proposal would integrate into the surrounding streetscape.

However, the appeals board has ordered the omission of the fifth floor of the scheme in the interests of the protection of the visual amenities of the area.

This reduces the scale of the original scheme, which involved the construction of a restaurant at ground floor level and 24 apartments for short term use.

‘Legendary’ restaurant

Third parties to appeal the council’s grant of permission included Boston College and Simon Broadhead.

Former environment editor of The Irish Times, Frank McDonald, submitted a hard-hitting observation to the board in support of the objectors’ opposition.

Mr McDonald argued that the Unicorn restaurant was “legendary” and had a long-established cultural context, operating since 1938.

He said the scheme should have been refused outright as it is totally over-scaled, excessive in height and unsuited to the Georgian core of Dublin.

Mr McDonald was following up on his original objection with Dublin City Council where he said the Unicorn “has been part of the landscape and cultural memory of Dublin, patronised by a diverse and loyal clientele that included politicians, civil servants, lawyers, architects, artists, writers and business people”.

The author argued that “the loss of a long-established restaurant as the Unicorn and of the historic and unique mews lane in which it is located, would also be a serious blow to the cultural landscape of Dublin”.

The board inspector in the case, Jane Dennehy, said the proposed demolition “is regrettable having regard to the historic significance of the plots and original buildings”.


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Ms Dennehy said the significance of the more recent use of the Unicorn must be acknowledged.

The inspector added: “However, it cannot be disputed that the site is under-utilised having regard to the achievement of the objectives of current strategic policy for central city locations.”

Recommending that planning permission be granted, Ms Dennehy said the planned restaurant at ground floor is considered appropriate and positive for the area where there is some clustering of restaurants.

In response to the objectors’ concerns, Aviva Life and Pensions Ireland DAC said the building is appropriately scaled and allows for a sustainable development of the brownfield infill site.