It’s long past time to abolish the Censorship of Publications Board

Cover of Huxley 'Point Counter Point' via WikipediaLast month on this site, I posed the question: why do we need a Censorship of Publications Board? It was a rhetorical question; in my view, we don’t need one at all.

The Censorship of Publications Board was established by section 3 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 (also here), with the power (under section 6 (also here)) to prohibit the sale of any book which

… is 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 procurement …

Its procedures are governed by the Censorship of Publications Regulations, 1980 (SI No 292 of 1980), and the Department of Justice website contains the Register of Prohibited Publications of December 2009 (here: pdf). A piece by John Byrne in today’s Irish Times (with added links) not only reinforces my view that we no longer have need for such paternalism, but also gives grounds for optimism that we will soon no longer be subject to it:

What a shocker: no more books to ban

After 80 years of censorship from a board once internationally notorious for its prurience, the last remaining book to be banned in Ireland on the grounds of obscenity will have its prohibition lifted this year, …

On May 9th, 1930, a year after the passing of the initial Censorship of Publications Act, [Aldous] Huxley’s novel [Point Counter Point, above left] became the Act’s first casualty. Banned on the grounds that it was “indecent and obscene”, it earned the dubious historical honour of being recorded as the first entry in the first volume of the Register of Prohibited Publications. Sixty-eight years and 12,491 prohibitions later, The Base Guide [to London] remains the final entry in the register’s final volume. …

In the 12 years since this last prohibition, the Censorship of Publications Board – at one time internationally notorious for its prurience and moral conservatism – has not banned a single title. … Under the terms of the 1967 Censorship of Publications Act, books deemed “indecent or obscene” have their prohibitions revoked after 12 years. With The Base Guide removed from the banned list along with 14 other titles likewise prohibited in 1998, the board’s long war against indecent and obscene books will, effectively, be over. For the first time since formal censorship began, not a single title banned on these grounds will remain on the register.

… the register will not, come December 31st, be entirely cleared of its backlog of prohibitions. There are, for instance, 279 periodicals still listed … [which will] remain banned until their prohibition is successfully appealed, … As far as books are concerned, eight lonely titles stand exempt from the 12-year amnesty that will shortly release The Base Guide et al. This group … will remain prohibited under current legislation that prohibits publications deemed to “advocate or promote” the procurement of abortion, waiting with faint hope for the unlikely day when a qualified party might launch an appeal on their behalf. …

It is very difficult to find official information online about this censorship regime (apart from short entries on the Department of Justice and Citizens Information websites – there is no official website or independent home for the Board, which now resides c/o the Irish Film Classification Office). Our current censorship regime is hidden in the shadows, and is being allowed to decline in obscurity:

Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Perhaps this neglect is because it embarrasses our lords and masters. It certainly embarrasses me. But instead of letting it wither quietly into oblivion, we should have the courage publicly to abolish it. The sooner Fine Gael’s Bonfire of the Quangos does away with this monument to our forefathers’ self-consciousness, the better.