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Storm in a tea cup Trouble brewing as Johnny Ronan’s firm claims it owns Bewley’s stained-glass windows

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Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained glass windows at Bewley’s cafe on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained glass windows at Bewley’s cafe on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained glass windows at Bewley’s cafe on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A fresh row is brewing between Bewley’s and its landlord Ronan Group Real Estate – this time over ownership of iconic stained-glass panels worth about €2m.

RGRE, controlled by developer Johnny Ronan, has written to Bewley’s “seeking written acknowledgement” from the company that it does not have any claim to them.

It comes as Bewley’s owner Paddy Campbell stated he intended to donate the valuable artwork to the public as he heads into retirement.

Ownership of the decorative glass panels, commissioned by Bewley’s from artists including Harry Clarke, Pauline Bewick and Jim Fitzpatrick, has already been transferred to the café’s parent company.

However, a spokesperson for RGRE said these artworks are “integral to the building and are owned by the landlord”.

Bewley’s was in a protracted legal battle with RGRE over rent arrears which nearly saw the Grafton Street cafe shut down permanently this year.

The RGRE spokesperson added that it is “more than happy for Paddy Campbell to remove any and all of his own sculptures from the premises.

“The Harry Clarke stained glass windows are a key part of the character and beauty of the building. It is RGRE’s wish that the premises remain open and accessible to the public, and that the windows continue to be enjoyed by all visitors. Indeed, it is a condition of the lease that the café remains open for trade and that the windows cannot be removed.”

Mr Campbell (78) wants to donate the artworks to a “suitable institution”.

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Iconic: Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained-glass windows at Bewley’s cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

Iconic: Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained-glass windows at Bewley’s cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

Iconic: Paddy Campbell in front of one of the stained-glass windows at Bewley’s cafe. Photo: Eugene Langan

This could potentially afford the parent company a lucrative tax break in the future – although Mr Campbell says he is motivated by their artistic and heritage value.

“Bewley’s belongs to the people of Ireland. The Harry Clarke panels, in particular, are a national treasure that we would love to see move into public ownership through a donation to a suitable institution,” Mr Campbell said.

Last night a statement added: “The works of art are decorative and ornamental, are not part of the building and did not form part of Bewley’s original sale of the premises to Royal Insurance in 1987. The artworks have always remained in the ownership of Bewley’s, and have been protected, maintained and insured by Bewley’s, consistent with such ownership.”

However, RGRE said: “It is not in Bewley’s gift to transfer ownership either between its group companies, as it has purported to do, or to transfer ownership to the state as Paddy Campbell has so generously indicated are his wishes.”

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