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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Censorship In Ireland

In Ireland, the state retains wide-ranging laws which allow for censorship, including specific laws covering films, advertisements, newspapers and magazines, as well as terrorism and pornography. In the early years of the state, censorship was more commonly enforced, particularly in areas which were opposed by Catholic dogma; including abortion, sexuality and homosexuality.


Film censorship

Ireland's Film Censors Office, renamed in 2008 as the Irish Film Classification Office, heavily cut films and videos for rental release, or placed high age ratings on them. Since the release of Michael Collins in 1996, which was rated PG, and despite its depictions of extreme violence, the censors office has reduced age ratings in general and rarely cuts films. Ratings usually match those of the UK, or are one level higher or lower. In 2000 The Cider House Rules received an 18s certificate in Ireland due to its themes of abortion and incest, despite the fact that in UK the film received a 12s certificate.



Advertisements are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, and must be truthful and factually accurate. In addition, adverts for illegal services are not allowed. The ASAI is a voluntary industry body which has no statutory powers and has no power to remove a publication from circulation. This power is vested in the Censorship of Publications Board. Given the status of the ASAI some advertisers choose to continually ignore its rulings by running controversial advertisements purely to draw attention to their products and services.


Newspapers and magazines

Whilst still theoretically censorable, newspapers and magazines are free to publish anything which does not break Ireland's tough libel laws. The Censorship of Publications Board reviews newspapers and magazines referred to it by the Customs and Excise and by members of the public. Until the late 1980s a large number of (mainly foreign) newspaper and magazines were banned in Ireland Including Playboy and the News of the World, the British edition of which is still, theoretically, banned.

The listing of periodicals under permanent banning orders as of 2007 includes many publications which have ceased to be published, as well as ones which are now sold freely without any realistic chance of prosecution, such as Health and Efficiency and The Weekly News. A large proportion of the banning orders date from the 1950s or before; and a similar proportion cover true crime publications, a type which were once illegal due to a perceived risk of glorifying or encouraging criminal behaviour.

In 2011, Paul Raymond Publications made an appeal against the ban on 5 of their publications, one of which has been banned for nearly 80 years. The appeal was upheld, meaning that these publications can be freely sold.



Hardcore pornography, while legal in Ireland, isn't allowed to depict any acts which are illegal in the state. This also covers any participants being beneath the Irish age of consent. If any of these are in a video, DVD, film, photograph or website, use and possession of them is illegal.

In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church via Archbishop John Charles McQuaid lobbied the Irish government to have pornography banned outright.

The government-controlled IE Domain Registry currently has a ban on all pornography-related domain names. For example, the domains and continue to be banned as they are considered "offensive or contrary to public policy or generally accepted principles of morality".


Central Bank of Ireland

In July 2009, the Central Bank of Ireland blocked insurers and banks from making any critical statements containing "any references" to them by means either of "public press statements" or un-approved public references, whether "written or oral."


The Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act 2010

This Act was passed by 78-71 in December 2010 in partial response to the 2008–2010 Irish banking crisis. Section 60 provides that the Irish government may apply to the courts for an order made under the Act to be heard in private. Section 59 prohibits anyone from publishing the fact that the minister has made an order or direction under the Act; even publication that such a prohibition order has been made is also an offence under the Act. Days after the Act was passed, an order was sought by minister Brian Lenihan, Jnr and approved allowing a transfer of over €3,700,000,000 into Allied Irish Bank, then an insolvent bank. Two Irish Times reporters were expelled from the court by judge Maureen Clark just before the hearing.



The Irish Constitution states that "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”. This is currently enforced through the Defamation Act 2009, section 36. The law includes the offence of blasphemous libel. It has yet to be enforced.

The new blasphemy law was enacted in 2009, allowing for fines of up to €25,000, simply because blasphemy was forbidden under the 1937 constitution and in the following 71 years there was no Act to enforce the provision. Scientist Richard Dawkins described the new law as "wretched, backward and uncivilised".

The text defines the crime where: he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
  • The judge would need to be satisfied the matter is "abusive and insulting" as distinct from opinion.
  • Judicial interpretation of "held sacred" and "any religion" could render the Act unenforceable.
  • A defendant's lawyer would argue the definition of "grossly", "thereby causing", "outrage" and "substantial number".
  • Article s.36 (3) provides that - "it shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.
  • Further, a "religion" is further defined in s.36 (4); it - does not include an organisation or cult— (a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or (b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation— (i) of its followers, or (ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.
  • s.36 could be held to be in breach of 44.2.1º of the Constitution The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status." 

The Troubles

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, censorship was used to prevent Sinn Féin and IRA members from having access to the media. Under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, it was forbidden to broadcast the voice of Sinn Féin members. This rule was brought in by Fianna Fáil Minister for Posts and Telegraphs Gerry Collins in 1971 and strengthened by Labour's Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1977.

Conor Cruise O'Brien tried Section 31 to censor coverage of the troubles in Northern Ireland, which could have been seen as pro-nationalist, in papers such as The Irish Press the editor Tim Pat Coogan published editorials attacking the Bill.

The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government tried to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the maltreatment of republican prisoners by the Garda Heavy Gang, with the paper winning the case. The then government also prosecuted the publishers of The Hibernia magazine.

The United Kingdom operated a similar rule between 1988 and 1994, although British broadcasters subverted this censorship by dubbing Sinn Féin speeches and interviews, with an actor's voice repeating the speech word-for-word. This was not possible in Ireland as the Government maintained the broadcasting ban did not allow word for word broadcast of a speech etc. and had sacked the entire Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) authority in 1971 and jailed RTÉ's Kevin O Kelly when he interviewed IRA chief of staff Sean Mac Stiofain but did not say he was the voice on a taped interview.

However RTÉ even refused to broadcast Sinn Féin members when they were talking about matters completely unrelated to the Northern Troubles. For example, Sinn Féin member Larry O'Toole was not permitted to appear on RTÉ to talk about a trade union dispute he was involved in. Instead, clips of the speaker talking were shown, along with a brief summary of what was being said. The High Court later found that this exclusion was not justified under Section 31.

In 1991, European Commission of Human Rights upheld the ban in case Purcell v. Ireland, though not unanimously. The Section 31 broadcasting ban was lifted in 1993 by Minister for Arts, Culture & the Gaeltacht Michael D. Higgins as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.


Abortion and birth control

Until the early 1990s, promotion of abortion in any way, including providing impartial information, was disallowed, and any publications providing information on it would be confiscated. Copies of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan women's magazines sold in the Republic were specially printed with blank pages instead of advertisements for abortion clinics. In the 1980s, the Irish Family Planning Association and the Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin students' unions were successfully sued by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children for publishing telephone numbers for abortion clinics in the United Kingdom. On one occasion British newspaper The Guardian was withdrawn by its Irish distributors for a day to preempt a threatened ban due to the inclusion of an advertisement for a UK abortion clinic in that day's issue (despite the advert having appeared on a number of prior occasions without incident).

In May 1992, the Democratic Left T.D. Proinsias De Rossa subverted this ban by reading the offending telephone numbers into the Dáil record, using his absolute privilege as a member of the Oireachtas to avoid a lawsuit.

In the wake of the X Case, the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of Ireland removed this prohibition in November 1992.



Censorship of mail in Ireland goes back to, at least, the 1660s and possibly earlier. Both overt and covert censorship of Irish mail took place, mainly in England and sometimes using warrants, from then through the 19th century. The Irish Civil War saw mail raided by the IRA marked as censored and sometimes opened. This is the first recorded such action within the new state. The National Army also opened mail and censorship of irregulars' mail in prisons took place.

Envelope from Dublin to USA showing a bilingual Irish censor handstamp used 8 September 1939, just six days after the enabling legislation was enacted

During the 1939–1945 Emergency extensive postal censorship took place under the control of the Department of Defence whose powers were conferred by the Emergency Powers Act 1939. Civilian mail was controlled by the approximately 200 censors who worked in Dublin's Exchequer Street and who had all been vetted by G2 and the Gardaí. Using the Black List and White List to target certain mail, the small staff were unable to effect 100% censorship; however, continental European mail was all reviewed, as was all incoming and outbound airmail. Following the overthrow of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, the British instigated full terminal mail censorship but the Irish were unable to look at more than about 10% due to the enormous staff this would have required. Covert censorship of mail between Northern Ireland and the south was effected by warrants obtained by G2, who also obtained warrants from the Minister for Justice for internal mail oversight.

The military internees, British, German and a few of other nationalities, held in the Curragh Camp had their mail censored, even local mail, though they are known to have posted their letters outside the camp to try to evade the camp oversight. IRA internees' mail was also censored under the Offences against the State Act that had been in place since June 1939.[29]

The Border Campaign led to the internment of IRA members, again under the Offences against the State Act, and their mail was overtly censored between 1957 and 1960 most often with an Irish language censor mark reading Ceadaithe ag an gCinsire Mileata applied to the outside of the letter and also to the sheets contained within.[30] In the 1980s mail from IRA members imprisoned in Limerick and likely also Portlaoise prisons has been recorded as censored but there is no record of civilian mail censorship since 1945.



Prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in Ireland (in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights' decision in Norris v. Ireland), the media was not allowed to promote it in a positive light (although this prohibition was often ignored particularly by publications such as Hot Press and In Dublin). This has since been removed, and discriminating against homosexuality is now illegal.


Unusual oversights



Music videos are exempt from film classification, whereas in the UK, they must be classified.  Broadcasters usually use their discretion and obey the UK classifications and showing time restrictions. Ireland receives all of the UK music channels, which are subject to UK music video laws; with the only Irish regulated broadcaster regularly showing music videos being Channel 6 or City Channel. However for several years TV3 Ireland ran a late-night music programme, which quite often showed uncensored music videos containing large amounts of nudity.

References to records or songs being "banned" in Ireland refer to one or more radio stations refusing to play the songs rather than any legislative ban, although prior to 1989 it may have been a moot point given that the only legal broadcasting stations in Ireland were those operated by state broadcaster RTÉ. In the 1930s there was even a short-lived airplay ban on an entire genre of music known as the "ban on Jazz" (with an exceptionally wide definition of what constituted "jazz"). Such bans only served to further increase listenership to foreign radio stations (such as Radio Luxembourg and the BBC) in Ireland, and lead to the growth of Irish pirate radio.

The ban by the Irish courts of the song "They never came home" by Christy Moore along with the original version of the album "Ordinary Man" on which it appeared has apparently never been overturned.


Computer games

Unlike most other countries, the Film Censors Office have little involvement in video game censorship. This led to an unusual situation where in the 1990s the UK-owned GAME sold the sanitised versions of Carmageddon which was a victim of censorship in the UK, whilst Irish owned stores sold the uncut versions imported from the United States. Games may only be banned if the Film Censor judges that it is unfit for viewing, which has happened once to date, with the banning of Manhunt 2 on the 18 June 2007, over two weeks before its launch date of July 6.

Ireland is a member of PEGI, but places no legal powers on its age recommendations. Retailers may attempt to enforce them at their discretion, but in the case of a protest they must sell the product to the customer.

Censorship landmarks

Development of Irish statutes

  • The Censorship of Films Act, 1923 was an act "to provide for the official censoring of cinematographic pictures and for other matters connected therewith". It established the office of the Official Censor of Films and a Censorship of Films Appeal Board (and see William Magennis). It was amended by the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act, 1925, in connection with advertisements for films. It was amended by the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act, 1930 to extend the legislation to "vocal or other sounds" accompanying pictures.
  • The Committee on Evil Literature was appointed in 1926 to report on the effectiveness of the censorship laws. It concluded that the then-current censorship laws were inadequate, and that the government had a duty to ban "morally corrupting" literature.
  • The Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 was an act "to make provision for the prohibition of the sale and distribution of unwholesome literature and for that purpose to provide for the establishment of a censorship of books and periodical publications, and to restrict the publication of reports of certain classes of judicial proceedings and for other purposes incidental to the matters aforesaid". It established the Censorship of Publications Board. A book caught by the act was one that "in its general tendency indecent or obscene ... or ... advocates the unnatural prevention of conception or the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such prevention or such miscarriage".
  • The Emergency Powers Act 1939 dealt with the preservation of the State in time of war and contained provisions relating to the censorship of communications, including mail, newspapers and periodicals.
  • On 18 November 1942 Senator Sir John Keane moved in the Irish Senate (Seanad Éireann): "That, in the opinion of Seanad Éireann, the Censorship of Publications Board appointed by the Minister for Justice under the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, has ceased to retain public confidence, and that steps should be taken by the Minister to reconstitute the board.". After four days of debate, the motion was roundly defeated: Tá (for) 2 votes - Sir John Keane and Joseph Johnston - Níl (against) 34 votes.
  • The Censorship of Publications Act, 1946 repealed a large part of the 1929 act and was "to make further and better provision for the censorship of books and periodical publications". Periodicals caught by the act included issues that "have devoted an unduly large proportion of space to the publication of matter relating to crime".
  • The Censorship of Publications Act, 1967 provided for prohibition orders made on the grounds of indecency or obscenity to expire after a period of twelve years. A further prohibition order could then be made by the Censorship of Publications Board in respect of the same book.
  • The Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 deleted references to "the unnatural prevention of conception" in the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 and the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946.
  • The Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act, 1995 modified the effect of the Censorship of Publications Acts, 1929 to 1967 in respect of certain information likely to be required by a woman to avail herself of "services provided outside the State for the termination of pregnancies". However, the information in question must not advocate or promote the termination of pregnancy.
  • The Defamation Act, 2009 which forbids blasphemy (with intent) at s.36.

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