Why do we need a Censorship of Publications Board?

Film Censor's Office former brass plate, via IFCO websiteFine Gael‘s new policy document “Reinventing Government” will no doubt keep a lot of political debates (and perhaps even fires) burning during the long cold November nights, and I look forward to the heat thereby generated. Quick off the mark was Ninth Level Ireland with a summary of its proposals on universities. Glancing through it, I was also taken by two aspects of its list of “Quangos to be abolished” in Appendix 1, one inclusion and one omission. The inclusion is this:

Department of Justice and Law Reform

… Merge Censorship of Publications Board and Office of Film Censor and Irish Film Classification Office into single Censorship Office.

Merge Censorship of Publications Appeals Board and Censorship of Films Appeal Board into single Censorship Appeals Office. …

I can understand why a classification system for movies and computer games is felt to be necessary, but I am at a loss to understand the need for prior restraint upon print publications, and I would therefore achieve the desired savings simply by abolishing the Censorship of Publications Board and Censorship of Publications Appeals Board altogether. The Irish Film Censor’s Office was renamed the Irish Film Classification Office in 2008, and the Censorship of Publications Board doesn’t even have its own website. If the whole process of censorship is so embarrassing, why even undertake it in the first place? For a sense of the kind of obloquy thereby avoided, we need look no further than Alan Titley‘s piece in last Thursday’s Irish Times:

… Ba mhó an greann a bhain leis an triail ar ghraostacht leabhar DH Lawrence ná an áiféis a bhain le Seanad Éireann san díospóireacht acu féin ar The Tailor and Ansty sna 1940í, agus nuair a baineadh na sleachta a léadh as an saothar den taifead oifigiúil. … Dhein an Gúm ceap magaidh díobh féin nuair a tharraing siad siar Fánaí le Seán Óg Ó Caomhánaigh ar bhonn abairt thall is abhus nach n-ardódh an luisne is lú ar phluca mná rialta faoina caille i bpríobháid a cille féin. …

Is i bhfad na haimsire nach dtuigtear cad chuige an sioscadh go léir, agus is beag duine anois a léifeadh Kate O’Brien chun bíogadh beag a fháil, ceal drugaí eile a bheith in aice láimhe. Baineann an chinsireacht le luachanna na linne, agus is ceap magaidh anois cuid de na tíortha is mó a samhlaítear liobrálachas leo, ag an am sin féin. …

Titley puts this censorship (cinsireacht) in the context of the the lifting of the UK ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel he thinks is overrated:

Cinsireacht agus Lady Chatterley

Crobhingne: Leathchéad bliain ó shin chuaigh Lady Chatterley’s Lover ar díol ar an mórthír soir uainn, agus an ní a dhéanann an mhórthír ní fada go ndéanann an t-oileán thoir ar ais é. …

… File den scoth ba ea Lawrence agus bhí dorn d’úrscéalta cumhachtacha scríofa aige, ach ní raibh Lady Chatterley ar cheann díobh. … Ach, ar deireadh, carachtar lag go maith ba ea Mellors, an coimeádaí géim, agus ba dheacair aon bhá mhór a bheith agat leis an mbantiarna, fiú dá mbeadh bá agat le bantiarnaí roimhe sin. Ba leamh leis an ógánach sráide an chabaireacht ar fad timpeall ar phiasúin agus ar phóitseáil. B’iad an t-aon bheirt go raibh aon tsuim iontu ná na mioncharachtair Seán Thomáis agus a chompánach, ach amháin, nárbh aon mhioncharachtair iad ach bun an aighnis go léir.

The omission from Fine Gael’s bonfire of the quangos is the Law Reform Commission, which was slated for closure in the Bord Snip Nua Report (Report of Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes vol 1 (pdf)). I hope this is an intentional omission and not an oversight. It would send all the wrong signals if we maintained the anachronistic apparatus of censorship but dismantled an important means of keeping the law up to date.

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