Dáil debates

Friday, 24 January 2014

Censorship of Publications Board Repeal Bill 2013: Second Stage

 

10:00 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Censorship of Publications Board is an outdated relic from a different era. It has lingered on while time has passed it by. The board has been bereft of members since 2011 and had only one book referred to it in the past five years, namely, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter’s Laura. Its strikes a lonely figure in the Government’s approach of cronyism to board appointments.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Bring back Lawrence.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Perversely, the board gives added publicity to books referred to it, while, in practice, it has essentially been bypassed by the Internet. It is a quango that is long since passed its sell-by date. The majority have never heard of the board, although it had long since departed before the Minister, Deputy Shatter’s novel made the front pages. Now it is time to ensure they will never have to hear from it again.

In an age of easy access to mass information, the idea that banning books in an entire country is either genuinely possible or socially necessary seems quaint. For most across Ireland, publications are available at the simple click of a mouse. The advent of the IT revolution and commercial giants such as Amazon and Google has brought a wealth of publications to countless households. While it was once said all knowledge in the world was housed in the Library of Alexandria, it is now contained in Google. E-books cover innumerable spheres of interest, broadening the cultural wealth of the country but also plumbing the depths of bad taste. After all, even Fifty Shades of Grey sold almost 60,000 copies in less than two months after its release here.

This technological revolution occurred hand in hand with a dramatic shift in cultural and social values. The diverse religious views of the population, relaxation of old social mores and diversity of nationalities in Ireland are a far cry from the post-war country where the censorship board was set up. In that immeasurably more traditional country a different sense of values and the role of the State in enforcing these values prevailed. Over the decades that shared sense of what was and was not acceptable has been transformed. Economic growth, demographic shifts, immigration and globalisation have all combined to change how we look at things. The past is a foreign country. Lagging behind this immense shift in Irish society is the aging monolith of the Censorship of Publications Board. A bygone reminder of a bygone time, it reflects a vague set of values on what is permissible without any reflection of the reality of how people access information in their own right. Its continued existence is having the direct opposite effect to what its creators had hoped for. Referring a book to the board has the counterproductive impact of widely publicising a book which is easily available through other routes. After it had been referred to the board, Laura was republished because of high demand.

The story of censorship in Ireland jars with our proud sense of a great literary tradition on this island. Outside commentators have long since criticised what they saw as a draconian regime. The British poet Robert Graves referred to the board as "the fiercest literary censorship this side of the Iron Curtain". Our own writers have wilted under the harsh glare of the literary fireman. The late John McGahern reflected on his own amusement at the idea of a board before finding that it still had a chilling effect on his life as he lost his job as a school teacher under the orders of an irate bishop when his books were banned. In his memoir, he wrote:

We had looked on the Censorship Board as a joke. Most banned books, like most books published, weren't worth reading and those that were could easily be found.
However, on finding his own works banned, he added, "I found it childish and unpleasant, and I was a little ashamed that our own independent country was making a fool of itself yet again." He went on to say, "I refused to take part in any protest on the grounds that it would do the whole sorry business too much honour."

A significant number of books have banned on the vague basis of obscenity by the board since its creation in 1946, when it replaced the 1929 Censorship Act. Currently, there are 274 books and magazines banned in Ireland. This is separate from the scourge of child pornography, which the 1998 Child Trafficking and Pornography Act covers. That Act makes it an offence to possess, print, publish or show child pornography. Current banned publications include Amazing Detective Cases and Daring Romances. Deemed obscene in the 1950s, they would not merit a raised eyebrow on "Fair City" now.

Upon receipt of a complaint from a member of the public, the board has the power to prohibit the sale and distribution of a particular publication. This means that it is illegal for the book to be bought, sold or distributed around the country. Prohibitions may be appealed to the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board. Both the Censorship of Publications Board and the appeals board consist of five members. While the Minister has indicated that he will appoint a temporary board to deal with Laura, the book by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, both boards have been empty for years.

The internal process behind banning is done behind firmly closed doors. For a book to be prohibited, at least three members must agree with the decision and only one can dissent. If the prohibition is passed, it comes into effect as soon as it is announced in. The ban lasts for 12 years. No details are given or minutes published on the discussion about the merits of the publication. The reasons behind the decision are not uttered in public. There is no open conversation as to why certain books should be banned and others allowed. There is no national discussion on what our collective values are; instead, it is all done in the shadows. The entire process is non-transparent. The appeal process is equally opaque and out of date. An appeal against the prohibition of a book may be made by the author, the editor or the publisher of the book, or - wait for it - by any five Members of the Oireachtas, either the Dáil or Seanad, who take an interest and have the initiative to act together.

10:05 am

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Manifestos should be banned.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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Does that mean that the Reform Alliance could-----

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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That is correct. I was about to say that even the Reform Alliance could band together to work towards or against an appeal with regard to the prohibition of Deputy Shatter's book, depending on whether it is prohibited in the first instance. That would be quite interesting.

The appeal board may affirm, revoke or vary the order so as to exclude a particular edition of the book from the order. Ordinary citizens are not allowed to appeal a ban. Again, the decision-making process is not one that allows for meaningful debate and discussion.

The gardaí may be issued with a search warrant if they suspect that prohibited books or periodicals are being kept anywhere for sale or distribution. If they find prohibited publications, they may remove them. If a person is convicted of possessing prohibited publications, he or she may be liable for a fine of €63.49 or six months' imprisonment. This type of law is out of place in modern Ireland. The idea of spending time in prison for selling books that are easily available elsewhere, even if the law is never enforced, does not belong to a modern democratic society.

The board stands out like a sore thumb in the Government’s much-published pledge to cull quangos. Prior to the 2011 election, Fine Gael's document Reinventing Government promised the abolition of more than 145 State bodies and companies, including the HSE and FÁS. It was also the cornerstone of its general election campaign on cutting waste in the public service. In reality, Fine Gael has completely abandoned its pre-election and election commitments to abolish 145 quangos. Only 49 in total will be abolished under this Government.

According to the public service reform plan published in November 2011, 48 State agencies were to be rationalised by the end of 2012 and 46 were to be reviewed by the end of June 2012. Earlier this month the Minister, Deputy Howlin, reheated the old news about a €20 million saving, about which he had previously spoken in 2012, and outlined the slow progress made on the actual number of agencies involved. This list of agencies was simply a rehash of agencies we had already rationalised or were in the process of rationalising. The Government has attempted to mask its failure to radically overhaul the quango sector by obfuscating on the details. In reality, it has to date reduced the overall number of quangos by 25 in total.

The Government has rowed back on its specific promise to abolish the National Cancer Registry and merge the Irish Aviation Authority and the Commission for Aviation Regulation. If it completes the rationalisations promised since 2012 and further outlined in January 2014, it will abolish a further net number of 24 quangos. By its own account, albeit hidden behind the spin, the Government will complete the abolition of just 49 quangos. This is a far cry from the 145 promised in the photo opportunities of 2010. However, it can improve its numbers by adding the censorship board and the appeals board to its paltry efforts.

The proud literary heritage of this island has often been overshadowed by a dark cloud of censorship. The rich works of renowned authors had fallen foul of the censorship’s board watchful eye. The chill winds of prohibition blew through libraries and bookshops across the State and cooled the enthusiasms of writers on the island. Many years have passed since the censorship board had its day. Irish society has been transformed while technology has pushed back our cultural horizons to fresh frontiers. Now is the time to move on from an obsolete relic whose effectiveness is counterproductive and whose purpose is questionable. I am confident that the Minister will live up to his party’s promise to cull quangos and put the board out of its misery.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am deputising for my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, who I understand has communicated to the proposer of the Bill the reason he cannot be here.

Censorship of publications in Ireland has had a very sad and sorry history, as Deputy Niall Collins has just adduced. Many great works of literature, including many by internationally successful and talented authors, both Irish and international, were banned. There is no question of returning to that time when a powerful censorship board could determine what members of the public could and could not read.

Deputy Collins's Bill proposes to repeal the Censorship of Publications Board and the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board. To me, this appears to be a sensible and overdue reform, but achieving this objective is somewhat more complex than is envisaged in Deputy Collins's Bill. There are two core issues to address. The first is that a complaint has been made under the current legislation, and it is only fair that we allow that complaint to be dealt with. The second is that this is a complex and technical area, and repealing part of the Censorship of Publications Acts while leaving the remainder in place should not be done without giving due consideration to the effects that this would have on the entire body of legislation. The last publication to be banned by the boards under this legislation was in 2003.

The approach of this Government is to examine all of the issues and the alternatives and then make a well-informed decision on the best way forward. Its approach is to give the complainant access to a censorship of publications board, which is provided for in the legislation under which they have made a complaint, and that is only fair. The Government, therefore, will not rush to take action without examining all the implications of that action. It will adopt a course after examining all of the issues that arise, and for this reason we will formally oppose Deputy Collins's Bill.

The Censorship of Publications Acts 1929 to 1967 comprise a total of three Acts. Under the Acts, publications that are censored are published in Iris Oifigiúiland entered on a register of prohibited publications which is provided for in the Acts. These registers are available on the websites of both the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The role of the Censorship of Publications Board is to examine books and periodicals for sale. The board may prohibit the sale and distribution of books and periodicals if they are found to be “indecent or obscene” or “advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement”. In addition, an officer of Customs and Excise may detain on importation, for the purpose of referring it to the Censorship of Publications Board, any book which, in his or her opinion, ought to be examined under the Act. The board must examine every book referred to it by an officer of Customs and Excise and every book in respect of which a complaint is made to it in the prescribed manner by any other person and may examine any book on its own initiative. The Censorship of Publications Board meets only when it is required. It last met on 3 June 2008. The term of office of the last Censorship of Publications Board expired on 9 November 2011. One complaint has been received for consideration by the Censorship of Publications Board.

The term of office of the Censorship of Publications Board is five years. The chairperson and members of the board are appointed by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The Censorship of Publications Board is independent of the Minister in the exercise of its functions and, as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, he does not have any power to alter these decisions. The Act specifies that the board shall have five members including the chairperson. The five-year term of office of the board is reckoned from the expiration of the term of office of its predecessor. The term of office of the last board expired on 9 November 2011 and therefore the term of a new board would run to 9 November 2016.

The Censorship of Publications Appeals Board may on appeal affirm or revoke a prohibition order in respect of a book or periodical publication or may vary the order so as to exclude from the application thereof any particular edition of the prohibited book or periodical publication. The appeals board has five members. The chair must be a judge of the Supreme Court, High Court or Circuit Court or a practising barrister or a practising solicitor of not less than seven years standing. The term of office of the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board is for three years. The board meets as required and it last met on 21 November 2011. Like the Censorship of Publications Board, its term of office is reckonable from the expiry of the previous board. The term of office of the last iteration of the appeals board expired on 11 February 2012, so a newly appointed board would serve until 11 February 2015. In the case of both boards, board members are not paid but they are recompensed for expenses incurred in respect of attendance at board meetings.

Significant legislative change has taken place since these boards were first put in place and, as Deputy Niall Collins said, technological advancement has altered the way in which information is shared, accessed and disseminated. One of the legislative changes is the Child Trafficking and Pornography Acts 1998 and 2004. Under this legislation, distribution of child pornography by film, video or material in written or auditory form including material produced or transmitted via the Internet is illegal. It might be worth mentioning here that, while there are many different approaches to censorship internationally, child pornography is the only subject which is censored in virtually every country in the world.

Another legislative change in the area of censorship is the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. This legislation makes it an offence, inter alia, to publish or distribute written material, to show or play a recording if the written material or recording, are threatening, abusive or insulting and are intended or are likely to stir up hatred.

I turn now to the Internet, which was not even dreamt of in 1967, much less so in 1929 or in 1946. This means that legislation which regulates the contents of printed books and periodicals as defined under the 1929 and 1946 Acts does not prohibit the same content on the Internet. In Ireland, we do regulate the Internet but we regulate it in a different way to the way we regulate publications. At present in Ireland, Internet service providers, ISPs, operate under a self-regulatory format. This is based on an industry code of practice and ethics that commits participating ISPs to ensure that their services and promotional materials will not contain material that is illegal, misleading, likely to incite violence or cruelty, racial hatred, prejudice, discrimination or even where the material is not illegal but considered inappropriate or calculated to cause distress, anxiety or inconvenience to others.

This self-regulation is overseen by the Office for Internet Safety which was established in 2008. It is an executive office of the Department of Justice and Equality and has primary oversight responsibility in respect to reviewing and ensuring the appropriate operation of the code and the wider self-regulatory system. If self-regulation were not proving effective enough, then the Office for Internet Safety can consider the introduction of legislation to regulate the sector. The debate following this Bill concerns a report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications and is not disconnected from this issue. I thank Deputy Niall Collins for advancing the Bill, which is timely. I hope it will provoke a debate in the House that is long overdue.

10:15 am

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this legislation, the Censorship of Publications Board Repeal Bill. I commend and thank Deputy Niall Collins for bringing the Bill before the House. I am delighted to see that romantic Ireland is not dead and gone in Fianna Fáil. I was particularly interested in the contribution.of Deputy Niall Collins.

I welcome the debate on censorship and the fact that we are living in changing times. It is important to remember that censorship of freedom of speech never worked in any society or any country. It is also important to know the facts, the history and the effect of the censorship board in this country. The Censorship of Publications Board is an independent board established by the Censorship of Publications Act 1929 to examine books and periodicals for sale in the Republic of Ireland. It is governed by the Censorship of Publications Acts 1929, 1946 and 1967. The board has the authority to prohibit any book or periodical it finds to be obscene. This makes it illegal to buy, sell or distribute the publication in the Republic of Ireland. The board prohibited a large number of publications in the past, including books by respected authors. Since the 1990s, it does not prohibit publications very often. It is important to know the background and history.

It is important to say that severe censorship is bad for democracy. Silence against injustice is bad for democracy in a free and open democratic society. Over the past week or so, I was fascinated by the silence in this Chamber about the imprisonment of the great peace activist, Margaretta D'Arcy. This woman is anti-war and pro-peace and she is languishing in jail. I express my dismay at her imprisonment. I urge the Minister and the Government to look at sensible ways to release the great Margaretta D'Arcy. It is important to say this in the debate because we can never silence peace activists, those who are against war and those who take a stand even though it is unpopular. I ask the Minister to intervene and free Margaretta D'Arcy because she is a woman of integrity.

Returning to the legislation, the Censorship of Publications Board can examine any book or periodical for sale in the Republic of Ireland.

A publication found to be obscene can be prohibited, making its buying, selling or distribution in Ireland illegal. The details of the rules of the board are such that it can examine any book or periodical referred to it by a Customs and Excise officer or member of the public. The board can also examine any such publication on its own initiative. If it finds a certain publication to be obscene, it can be prohibited for a period. During this period, any buying, selling and distribution of the publication in the Republic of Ireland is banned. We must zoom in on the relevant section of the legislation. Surely Customs and Excise officers have enough to be doing without doing this kind of work. There is a high rate of crime, a large volume of drugs is imported, and there are big problems with illegal cigarettes. The Customs and Excise officers should be tackling these issues, not dealing with censorship.

The Censorship of Publications Act 1967 remains in place although the Irish social climate has greatly changed in the meantime. We all accept that the country has changed, although not always for the better, sadly. However, with regard to accountability, transparency and censorship, Ireland has generally changed for the better. In May 2006, Lee Dunne's novel Paddy Maguire is Dead, a semi-autobiographical novel about a writer's descent into alcoholism, was released here after its having been banned for 34 years. It was originally published in the United Kingdom in 1972 but was banned in Ireland on its release because it was thought to be indecent and obscene. Mr. Dunne's next six novels were also banned, making him the most banned author in Ireland. He was unable to get a book released in Ireland until the 1980s. This is but one example.

Since 2000, a total of eight books has been referred to the board, but none has been prohibited. No books are currently banned in Ireland on the grounds of indecency, but eight books about abortion continue to be censored. We have dealt with this.

I was very interested in hearing the Minister's remarks. He said that when trying to challenge these issues, one must have certain guidelines for society. I welcome the legislative changes in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Acts 1998 to 2004. Under this legislation, the distribution of pornography by film, video or other material was made illegal. There is legislation to protect citizens, including the vulnerable.

I strongly support the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which I sometimes believe is not implemented as much as it should be. It makes it an offence to publish or distribute written material that is threatening, abusive or insulting, or which stirs up hatred. This should be implemented a lot more in the State because we are aware that racism still exists. Such issues might be under the radar but one should not cod oneself that they are not arising. We hear of such issues regularly in our constituency clinics. It is important that the legislation is on the Statute Book. We should keep an eye on it regularly and use it more often.

The Minister referred to the regulation of the Internet. We have addressed this. If we find self-regulation in respect of the Internet is not effective, the Minister should consider introducing legislation. We must be very conscious of the issues that arise.

On the broader issue, I strongly support Deputy Niall Collins's comment that the board is obsolete and a quango. The board has had no new member since 2011, and only one book was referred to it over the past five years, namely Lauraby the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. Since it was banned, sales increased. I do not know why people bought it but that is another debate.

The core issue concerns quangos. I am glad Minister of State Deputy Paschal Donohoe has joined us because he was another man who was ranting and raving about quangos before the last general election. I hope he will do so now and support the legislation. That no new board members have been appointed since 2011 is a testament to the fact that the board has outlived its use, having been completely bypassed by the Internet. Social values have changed immeasurably since 1946.

Consider the question of commitments in this area. Before the election, Fine Gael, in its documentation on reinventing government, promised the abolition of 145 State bodies and companies, including the dismantling of the HSE and FÁS. This was the cornerstone of its general election campaign. My good friend and colleague Deputy Shane Ross has raised this issue many times in regard to quangos. We must examine seriously the spending of public money and the use of resources, particularly in an economic downturn.

I welcome the publication of this legislation and commend Deputy Collins on bringing it before the House. Not only does it deal with reform but it also facilitates a debate on issues such as the censorship board, the Internet and some of the negative features of Irish society.

10:25 am

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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The current Fine Gael-Labour Government entered office in 2011 on a raft of promises, most of which have long since been forgotten. One we can all recall clearly, however, is that of a sweeping cull of quangos. After years of Fianna Fáil-appointed quangos and boards, Fine Gael and the Labour Party were happy to offer the public a solution to something it was turning further and further against. Despite this, in 2014, almost three years after the coalition took power, it does not seem to be doing a great job in following up on this promise, let alone countless others.

When asked about the Censorship of Publications Board in June 2013, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, responded by saying the five-year term of office of the last board expired on 9 November 2011 and that the new board was not yet appointed. I am disappointed to learn this morning that the Government is to oppose this Bill. I fail to see any connection between this debate and the one we are about to have on social media and cyber-bullying. There is a very tenuous connection, if any.

The board has no current members; it is a ghost board. It has not had any new members since 2011, yet the Government has failed to get rid of it. It is redundant but still in existence, and it needs to go. We need to perform an exorcism. The Censorship of Publications Appeal Board was established under the Censorship of Publications Act 1946. Under its terms, any person may make a complaint to the Censorship of Publications Board. The appeal board may affirm, revoke or vary a prohibition. Its goal is to protect Irish citizens from literature of an obscene nature. In 2014, given the technological advances since 1946, this is an unrealistic aim. At the touch of a button, we can now gain access to material that is absolutely uncensored. As worrying as this may sometimes be, it is none the less true. Even when the board was operating at full capacity, I could not agree with many of the decisions it made. Some of our most cherished and celebrated writers had their work banned by the board. Censoring the work of the likes of Liam O'Flaherty, Oliver St. John Gogarty and Maura Laverty did a great disservice to those who fought so hard for the cultural revival.

It is appropriate and timely to remind Members of this House and others who may have forgotten about censorship in the not-so-distant past about the disgrace that was section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. As some may be aware, it is 20 years this week since section 31 was lifted. Instead of promoting understanding of the situation, section 31 fostered public ignorance. Censorship helped to prolong the war raging in the North. It not only restricted discussion and debate but also spread fear of raising issues related to the conflict. The order was renewed annually, ensuring that people in the Twenty-six Counties received a totally one-sided view of the war and of its consequences for the whole of Ireland. In the Twenty-six Counties, section 31 restrictions were in force for over 20 years. The effect of this on our historical archives is often underestimated. Section 31 literally interfered with our history, ensuring at the time that people did not know what was happening and even now, people are ignorant of what was happening. This is what censorship does. Irish people in this State were cut off from the experience of their fellow Irish people in the Six Counties. Censorship attempted to silence the voice of republican dissent in this State. There were some comedic moments and I am sure financially struggling artists welcomed the money they were paid to do voice-overs for republican spokespersons. However, those brief moments of comedy did nothing to take away from the serious undermining of public knowledge and the right to public knowledge.

Since that time, Sinn Féin spokespersons have been seen to articulate the needs and demands of the thousands of Irish people whose concerns we represent. We have finally been able to give a voice to the thousands who were stripped of theirs because that is what section 31 did. It muted the voices of thousands of Irish citizens struggling to survive in the North by silencing their spokespeople. This is what censorship does. It goes against the democratic system. All voices have a right to be heard. In that context, I join those voices condemning the imprisonment of Margaretta D'Arcy. The jailing of this unwell and elderly lady for expressing a view that is widely-held among Irish people is a disgrace in any civilised society. She should be released immediately and shame on all of us if she is not so released.

Section 31 was originally instigated by a Labour Party Minister but ironically, it was another Labour Party Minister, Michael D. Higgins, now Uachtaráin na hÉireann, who lifted the ban. The Fianna Fáil - Labour Party Government took office in 1992. Michael D. Higgins, who was appointed to the Cabinet, had expressed his opposition to section 31. The ban lapsed on 19 January and the broadcast media in the Twenty-six Counties were free to interview Sinn Féin spokespeople. Many Members of the Dáil 20 years ago would never have believed that today, in 2014, voices that were banned from broadcasting would now be representing Irish people in this very House. I, for one, am glad that we are.

We in Sinn Féin believe in a real republic where all citizens are equal. We do not believe that some voices are more important than others. We believe in the right of every voice to be heard. There is no place in this society for censorship of any kind. There is certainly no place for a board which has no members. I welcome the Bill and my party will support it.

10:35 am

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I thank the Minister for his detailed reply outlining why he cannot accept the Bill. The debate itself is important because we are talking here about a quango and the censorship board is unnecessary for many reasons, as outlined earlier by Deputy Niall Collins. If we repeal the Act and remove the Censorship of Publications Board it would send out a strong message. It would represent a retrospective message of apology to many of the literary geniuses whose work was censored by the board in previous times. Ireland has a long, strong and proud literary tradition and the fact that a vestige of a previous time in our history is still on our Statute Book is shameful. The Censorship of Publications Board inhibited many of our finest literary artists and prevented them from flourishing on this island and I would welcome its dissolution.

Deputy Niall Collins has already outlined why the board is obsolete. The very fact that there have been so few referrals to the board in recent times proves that it is obsolete. Only one book has been referred to the board in recent times, a book called Laura, written by the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter. I do not know whether it was referred because of the obscenity of the content or because of its author. I must get to the bottom of that. We await the adjudication of this fine board when it eventually has the required number of people to meet.

In general, I am against prohibition and censorship. As a mature society, we should trust our citizens to be able to decide what is right and wrong and what is good for society. Equally, we cannot impinge on the individual's right to access material which he or she believes is of interest. In the context of the Internet, Google, Amazon, and numerous other software companies and internet providers, many of which are located in this State, the censorship board is shown to be totally backward. It is completely obsolete in the context of modern technology and what people can access on their iPhone, iPad or laptop. For all of those reasons, the legislation should be removed from the Statute Book.

Having listened to the debate so far, there seems to be broad support for the principle of this Bill. The technical issues to which the Minister referred should be ironed out and we should move swiftly to abolish the board and the appeals board. Obviously, the appeal that is currently before the board must be assessed and adjudicated on first. I am hopeful, even though I never read it, that this book will be allowed to be on the shelves forever and a day, as a testament to the great literary giant that is Deputy Shatter. I look forward to reading Laura when it is approved by the board.

Deputy Colreavy referred to the broader question of censorship and spoke about section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. He said that censorship goes against democracy but violence and mayhem also go against democracy. Censorship in the form of section 31 was introduced because this State was under attack and was being undermined by a paramilitary organisation which had no political mandate at the time. The political representatives of that organisation in the Republic received no mandate whatsoever to represent people in this House. They were also roundly rejected by the electorate in Northern Ireland for many years until such time as there was an opening up of a process of dialogue to encourage those who saw murder and mayhem as a means to a political end to put down the gun and take up discussion. That is why the lifting of the section 31 ban happened. I was actually in the Houses of the Oireachtas when that decision was made by the Fianna Fáil - Labour Party Government, announced by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, now President Higgins, as the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. That was a very important moment because it sent out a strong message that the Government was willing to listen to people. Equally, those who had previously been censored then presented themselves on the airwaves and sent out messages that they were willing to listen to the vast majority of the people on this island with regard to laying the gun down once and for all and accepting the democratic principles the rest of us espouse and to which we adhere.

I do not believe that one can compare section 31 and Laurain the same breath. We should keep to the specifics of the Bill as tabled by Deputy Niall Collins, namely, the censorship of publications in the context of their literary aspect. The purpose, intention and consequences of section 31 were very different from those of the censorship applied by the board in question.

I welcome the overall discussion, which is a broader discussion because it makes clear that when one has any form of censorship on the Statute Book it causes an undercurrent of feeling that someone is watching what one is doing in the context of one’s artistic work and that there is someone other than the public who can approve or disapprove of it. That in itself is something I would not like to see. There are many reasons such a provision is obsolete in the context of modern technology and the transfer of information through the Internet and globalisation.

Another point to bear in mind is that we are a multicultural society now. We are part of a larger gathering of people, not only in the context of being a member of the European Union but because we are now seen as a destination by many and as a place they would like to reside and contribute. As the inflow of people over the years beds down, literary works will come from communities and individuals of whom we would not previously have had any understanding. It is important that they be allowed to flourish, grow and identify themselves through their literary work. I do not say who would be banned by the Censorship of Publications Board but the fact that it exists in the background is reason enough to get rid of it.

Another area of legislative change in the area of censorship is the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989, which makes it an offence, inter alia, to publish or distribute written material or to show or play a recording if the written material or recording is threatening, abusive or insulting or is intended to be likely to stir up hatred. Thus, legislation is already in place to ensure that material that is intended to stir up hatred does not circulate in this country. The other key Acts are the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act of 1998 and the Child Trafficking and Pornography (Amendment) Act 2004, which ensure there is no distribution of child pornographic material in the State. These pieces of legislation are highly important. They could not be considered as censorship in any way. They are about protecting vulnerable people and ensuring we do not allow the transfer of information that is disgusting and exploitative in the context of child pornography and also disgusting and dangerous in the context of incitement to hatred. Those two legislative provisions will remain on the Statute Book and all resources should be put in place to ensure the situation is monitored and any breaches are prosecuted through the courts.

On a lighter note, what the Censorship of Publications Board should have been looking at in recent years is manifestos, because they were certainly very threatening, far-fetched and insulting to our intelligence. Perhaps they should have been banned, as the material distributed was utterly unbelievable-----

10:45 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Misleading.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----misleading and threatening. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government moves as expeditiously as is possible and practicable with regard to the abolition of the board and the appeals board. The Minister outlined some difficulties but I do not believe they are insurmountable. I hope the final adjudication of the board will be the book Laura. I make an urgent plea to ensure it is set free, like the Minister himself, and that it will be on the shelves forever and a day as a testament to his literary genius. I ask the Government to please move quickly. That would also allow it to fulfil many of the broken promises in the manifestos on the number of quangos the parties said they would abolish as opposed to what they have abolished. Acceptance of the measure would help the Government to fulfil its broken promises.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I wish to make a statement on general principles in the area to underscore what the Minister said and to respond briefly to the points various Deputies have made this morning.

I agree with Deputy Kelleher’s point that for the vast majority of purchases or engagements people have with art, the ones who should determine whether it is acceptable – be it music, film or books – are the people themselves. The State or its organs do not have a role to play. That view is a reflection of the times in which we live. Previously, at a different time in the history of our country a different consensus existed and the laws and institutions of the time reflected the consensus. The existence of legislation and the bodies such as those under discussion reflect a view of society from a previous time.

There are some exceptions to the overall view and they broadly fall into two categories. The first relates to the creation of material that could result in hurt or damage to an individual or where the consumption of such material could have such an effect. As previous speakers indicated, we now have legislation on the Statute Book to address those particular and specific areas about which we all have great concern, such as incitement to hatred and child pornography. They are specific areas in which the State has a role and it is now fulfilled by other legislation that is on the Statute Book.

We are referring to bodies that have not banned any piece of art for ten years. In the case of the boards of both bodies, it is quite a period of time since either met, which leads on to the final point in terms of their relevance. Due diligence must be done following a complaint made about legislation relating to an existing body. That must be dealt with fairly, which we will do. I assure Deputy Kelleher that the book, including the portion of it that he appears so eager to read, is currently available and has been set free.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I must wait for the adjudication before I can touch it.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I am certain that given the principles the Deputy outlined earlier about the ability of people to determine what they read, he will exercise that himself. I assure him that the literature is available in bookstores around the country. He does not need to wait for this process to be served out if he wishes to read it.

In terms of how long it is since anything has been banned, I refer to the points made by Deputy Niall Collins. The pieces of legislation under discussion are a reflection of the time in which the legislation was drafted. The fact that they have been so inactive recently clearly tells its own story.

Deputy Finian McGrath's comments showed the balancing act we all have to perform. Comments are made on the Internet and through social media that can cause great upset and damage, and the Deputy said we should consider regulation in this regard. We cannot have it both ways.

We cannot say that, for one particular art form or other form of expression people have to decide ultimately what it is they want to consume, and then say the State has a role in another sphere of communication. The delicate balancing act between the absolute right of expression and the fact that some forms of expression have consequences for people is one in which the State needs to play a role.

That said, that is not a rationale for these censorship bodies or the legislation in question. I agree with Deputy Michael Colreavy that the legislation is a reflection of the times in which it was introduced. It would be unthinkable that the great pieces of literature of many of our contemporary artists such as Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue, Colm Tóibín and John Banville would be impacted on by a decision of the State to censor them. That itself is a change from where we have been, which is why these bodies and legislation will be reviewed.

Deputy Billy Kelleher accurately summarised the background to section 31 which was repealed because of a change in the political and social consensus. When the review of the censorship legislation is completed, the Minister will outline a course of action regarding the Censorship of Publications Act and the two bodies in question.

10:55 am

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Members who participated in this debate on the Censorship of Publications Board Repeal Bill 2013. There is no political agenda regarding the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and his novel, Laura. He just happened to be the catalyst which triggered a critical analysis by Fianna Fáil of the Censorship of Publications Board. We are not playing political games, but it is a fact that his book is at the centre of the issue. If we wanted to be smart or political, we could ask if he absented himself from the Cabinet when this Bill was being discussed or when the new members of the censorship board were being appointed. However, we did not.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, informed us that the Government intended to oppose the Bill, which is regrettable. The Bill is timely and the Government should take it in its true spirit. Unfortunately, all Friday sittings involve is an exercise where the Opposition offers Bills which, in most instances, are opposed by the Government. Those not opposed are parked within the system and do not progress to Committee or Remaining Stages. That needs to be examined if part of Dáil reform is to allow the opportunity for individual Members to bring forward Bills. Not one Private Members’ Bill brought forward on a Friday has been enacted.

The Minister, in outlining why the Government opposed this Bill, stated this was a complex and technical area. That was the only reason he gave. He went on to state the Government would not rush to take action but was examining all details in the area. However, he has not outlined any detailed reason the Bill is being opposed, which is regrettable.

Since 2000, eight books have been referred to the board but none has been prohibited, as well as 34 periodicals and magazines. The last time a periodical was prohibited or banned was in 2003. The board has moved on in that regard. I take the point about the 1998 and 2004 child pornography legislation. Why do we not put the resources given to publications censorship into funding research into and policing against cyber bullying and child pornography on the Internet? Sadly, on many occasions this House has discussed the issue of suicide. One reason often cited for suicide among young people is cyber bullying. It is a significant problem and, unfortunately, a downside of the advancement of technology. It is a challenge for all parents with young children to keep an eye on technology and keep apace with it to ensure children are not subjected to the malevolent and deviant forces that operate on the Internet.

The imprisonment of Margaretta D'Arcy was also raised, a matter which also received a lengthy airing during Topical Issues during the week. Everyone is concerned about her welfare, but I agree with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, on this case that we cannot interfere with the courts which have to be allowed to do their work independently. There was an exhaustive process in the case of Ms D’Arcy. While people have to be allowed to protest, it must be peaceful and within the law. That is the beginning and the end of it. One cannot have a situation where people break onto the runways of airports. The processes are in place in the courts and the legal system. We all share the concerns about Ms D’Arcy’s welfare and health. It is right and proper that this has to be taken into consideration, but that is a job for the courts to do.

I do not agree with Deputy Michael Colreavy on section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act which was on the Statute Book when the State was under siege and attempts were being made to subvert it by the Provisional IRA and others. Section 31 was necessary at that point to protect the State. It was repealed when the time was right and it was proper to do so, but up until then, one could not have had a situation where people trying to subvert the State could be afforded an opportunity to engage and further their aims on broadcast stations. Comparisons between the intent of section 31 when it was introduced and the intent behind the establishment of the Censorship of Publications Board are not valid.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording us the opportunity to debate the Bill which is timely and topical.

I am sure there has been a degree of outside interest, given the identity of the person who authored the book at the centre of the complaint before the board and all Members await with interest the outcome of the board's adjudication. In the meantime, I will press the matter to a vote which I understand will take place next Tuesday.

11:05 am

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is correct.

Question put.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 117A(4), the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 28 January 2014.