Thursday, 10 November 1988
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Foley: I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this legislation. I congratulate the Minister on his response to the many requests for legislation. As he has said there is a number of reasons for bringing forward this important Bill.
The main purpose of the Bill is to ban the availability of video material of a violent or offensive nature — the so-called video nasties being a case in point. The Irish Videogram Association have  endorsed the spirit of the proposed legislation and have made a very fine submission on the Bill. I congratulate them on that. They recognised that their growth is dependent on providing top class home entertainment for the whole family. As a responsible body they have adopted a programme of self classification of titles legitimately available to the Irish public as well as producing advisory literature to serve as a guide to the consumer on the video products they can rent or purchase. In recent years there has been growing public concern about some of the videos which are being openly supplied to young people and to the not so young. The expression “video nasties” has become part of our everyday language and the total lack of any legal restrictions on the supply of videos has become a source of grave concern to parents, teachers and everybody concerned with the wellbeing of our young people and the development of society. It is an accepted fact that the increase in child sexual abuse over the past number of years and the increase in certain types of other crime is attributed to the fact that video nasties are so freely available in our society. The increase in the incidence of rape and acts of violence is equally unsurprising and for the same reason. It is agreed that constant exposure to scenes of violence influences values and attitudes.
Almost all homes throughout the country have television and we are now subject to films and TV programmes from outside the country and outside our control. Hence, the legislation now being introduced will mean supervision and more control within the business. All new videos which come within the scope of the control will have to be submitted to the film censor for certification before they may be supplied. Another very important and welcome part of the Bill is that the censor will have power to decide whether certain video films already in circulation on the market should be prohibited. There is a clear need for the powers proposed in the Bill  for a long time. We, as public representatives, have been approached by many parents, teachers and youth organisations speaking out against the obscene films which are freely available. These people must now be very pleased with the Bill.
The best control that can be exercised in order to protect young people from the undesirable influences of visual materials is that which is exercised by parents. This Bill in no way changes that role or the importance of parental involvement in discriminating between what is good and wholesome and for their children's wellbeing in moral and general education. It does however assist them greatly in that it will prohibit the importation and sale here of the vile, vicious rubbish that has caused so many problems for parents, teachers and community leaders for a long time. It is not a coincidence that the incidence of rape, murder, muggings and violent crimes has risen at the same time as the availability of video films. Families will still have to be vigilant and exercise control over video material which might be safely viewed by adults and older family members but which would be totally unsuitable for children and many adults. I would advocate that younger members of the family should not be sent to video shops to select videos for their own viewing. Parents should exercise strong control. Video rental stores and proprietors will no doubt co-operate in this matter.
In the past children have been known to organise parties when the parents were out, possibly at work, in order to view videos rented by the parents. The onus is now on the parents at all times to protect this material from the young people. I welcome the Bill and I congratulate the Minister for Justice for introducing it. It was necessary to have the Bill introduced because since the State was founded films have been subject to censorship and video films should also be subject to it. It is an opportune time to introduce the Bill to ensure that young people will not view films which are unsuitable for them.
Mr. McDowell: Like my party spokesperson, Deputy Colley, I welcome the principle of the Bill but I have one misgiving and that is that every video to be supplied has to be looked at and examined with a view to providing it with a certificate rather than that the ordinary law of obscenity as a protection applying could be availed of in this case. In terms of resources I worry that the vast amount of material that would have to be examined, with a view to deciding whether material does or does not merit a certificate, is substantial. It is an onerous task that the Legislature is taking on itself. Are people to wade through video after video and science fiction video after science fiction video to see what does or does not amount to a tolerable amount of violence. Should it not be the case that videos for people under a certain age must carry a certificate but videos for the ordinary customer or client of these clubs should be presumed not to have an obnoxious content and that the onus should be shifted to the supplier in those circumstances not to produce anything that is obscene or violent in character beyond a certain degree.
The last speaker pointed out that there is a regime of censorship in relation to films but film clubs have a particular exemption at present and they avail of it. Adults join film clubs and are not subject in the ordinary course to censorship but they are subject to obscenity laws. It would not be permissible to use a film club to show obscene or pornographic films or whatever. We are making a distinction in relation to videos. I accept that videos are not directly comparable with films but it strikes me as odd that a film which is banned can be shown as part of a private showing to members of a film club whereas if it is in video form it cannot be supplied for the same purpose. That is a strange anomaly which we find here. If it was to be supplied for the purpose of showing to members of a club it would infringe this Bill because presumably it would not have a certificate, whereas if it came in film form it would be exempt for the purposes of this Bill.
There is an anomaly here which it may  not be practicable to cure. It raises in my mind the issue that we have provided a reasonably mature provision in our law that a genuine film club — which is not a public institution and does not admit members of the public — can look collectively at what they like without the Film Censor vetting what they see and they stand to be prosecuted only if they infringe obscenity laws, whereas on the other hand a club which resorted to playing a video of exactly the same material will be covered by one of the certificates, and, therefore, will not find the video available in the same form as it would be available to them in film form.
The reservation I have in relation to this Bill — and I will not go to the stake for it or shout and roar about it is that I do not believe that everything must be examined as a matter of rule to decide whether it is suitable. I believe somebody in this Chamber should speak up for that. We should try to rely on a minimalist law. Those who enagage in the distribution of videos should take on themselves a self-regulatory responsibility with serious penalties. That would be a preferable way to go about our business. I contend that in relation to young people in particular, special arrangements should be made which do not apply to adults generally.
I want to echo what Deputy Collley said this morning. I agree that there is an injustice and an evil to be remedied. This law is slightly more restrictive than that relating to films and slightly anomalously so. Also I contend it is slightly less liberal than it might have been. It should have been possible to use obscenity law and protections which exist generally at present in relation to films shown to members of clubs to regulate videos for adults. I regret that we have chosen an easy, slightly unworkable system in that I do not believe that every video will be screened or looked at. I do not believe we will have the manpower or womanpower to go through every video with the scrutiny it deserves. In the last analysis I contend it would have been better to have relied on a self-regulating  system, in relation to adults at any rate, rather than go down the road of examining everything with a view to deciding whether it should be let out on video. The proof of the pudding is that the films which are censored, either in their entirety or cut, are available to be seen by members of a genuine film club in private, whereas, in video form, they will not be. In those circumstances I wonder whether we are not introducing a somewhat skewed law which is unnecessarily restrictive.
Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí a labhair san díospóireacht spéisiúil seo. Chuir mé suim mhór sna tuairimí a nochtaigh siad agus tá sé ar intinn agam na tuairimí sin a scrúdú go cúramach i rith Chéim an Choiste.
I should like to thank Deputies for the extremely interesting debate we have had here all day. There have been a number of points of principle and detail raised, some of which I will respond to briefly. Between now and Committee Stage I will give further consideration to the remaining points raised.
I should mention that any remarks I make now are not intended to pre-empt any decisions on any points raised by Deputies and to which further consideration should be given. Any remarks I make now are for the purposes of giving further information or by way of teasing out points somewhat more. I can assure Deputies that I will give careful consideration to any points they have raised by way of suggested changes for Committee Stage. I say that deliberately bearing in mind the comments made by Deputy Barrett earlier in this morning. This is an area which is not political but one in which there is very great interest on the part of Members of all parties in the House. I should like to assure Deputy Barrett that I shall welcome any amendments or suggestions put forward for the improvement of the Bill. The Deputy was gracious enough to admit that, in the course of the Seanad debate, I took on board amendments proposed there  because I believe that the Bill would benefit therefrom. I shall be prepared to do the same again. I am open to conviction on anything and shall welcome a detailed Committee Stage discussion on this Bill.
I am very pleased at the general welcome given the Bill by Deputy Barrett and others. It appears there is no difference among us in what we want to achieve. We are debating how best to achieve an objective on which we are all agreed and we are speaking merely about detail rather than principle. Indeed the real meat of this Bill will be dealt with on Committee Stage.
One point raised by Deputies Barrett, Colley and others was the question of classification of video films. As I said in my introductory remarks this morning, the purpose of classification is to prevent children below a given age from viewing objectionable video films. Classification does not achieve that purpose. All it does is render it an offence to supply an objectionable video film to a person below the stated age. That is an important point. However, once a film is supplied, the State has no control over its viewers. Accordingly a person, say, aged 19, 20 or 21 can rent or buy a film and then show it to people below the age of 18. Similarly adults may buy a film and, unknown to them, it may be viewed by children. That is the problem with which we are endeavouring to deal. It is a difficult one, not easy to come to grips with. However, it is one we can tease out in great detail in the course of our Committee Stage discussion.
Mr. Collins: This is a different matter altogether. One cannot compare the effects of the consumption of a bottle or two of cider — because a person's capacity to consume may vary considerably from another's — with the effects occasioned by viewing a really filthy video nasty and the damage that can do to young people's minds. I do not  think there is any comparison to be drawn between the two.
Classification does give information to a hirer or purchaser of video films as to the groups of people for whom its viewing is suitable. Under the system we propose this information will not be provided by our Film Censor. As most tapes come here from the United Kingdom there will be an indication on them, from the United Kingdom, from their labelling, as to the age groups for whom their viewing is suitable. The Irish Videogram Association also have issued guidelines for the consumer as to the content of cassettes. This will give information to parents with regard to age, suitability and so on.
Practically every Deputy who contributed to the debate spoke about the efforts made by the Irish Videogram Association to improve standards within their industry. I too am aware of their efforts. Indeed I have been very impressed by their outlook on the industry and their determination to take action themselves. I should add also that there has been most fruitful co-operation between the association and my Department in the drafting of this Bill. I want to acknowledge that publicly.
A number of speakers referred to copyright and video piracy. The Irish Videogram Association have commented frequently on difficulties encountered in this area. It is admitted by everybody that legislation on this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I understand that consultations have taken place between the association and representatives of the Department of Industry and Commerce.
As regards enforcement of copyright, I should say that last year I arranged a meeting between the appropriate Garda representative and representatives of the association to ensure that there would continue to be a flow of information between the Garda and the association concerning possible breaches of the relevant legislation. The arguments advanced about abuse of copyright constituted one of the main reasons I changed the Bill in the course of its passage through the Seanad, to provide for a  licensing system for people who sell or rent out video films. Many Senators argued that a licensing system would constitute a strong weapon against abuse of copyright. I considered those arguments carefully and, as a result, decided to amend the Bill accordingly. I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Industry and Commerce that legislation on copyright is in the final stages of drafting and that it is hoped to introduce a Bill in December. Its provisions should be helpful to us also.
Also in relation to copyright I might draw Deputies' attention to section 23 which deals with forfeiture of licences. One of the grounds for forfeiture of licence is conviction for offences under the laws relating to copyright. I am satisfied that this will prove an effective deterrent to piracy and copyright in so far as such deterrents are appropriate to the provisions of this Bill.
Deputy Barrett and others referred to developments in the area of television and satellite channels in particular. Of course material available on television is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Communications. My Department have been in consultation with his Department on this point. With the major developments and expansion in television broadcast services, particularly those of a trans-frontier satellite-transmitted nature, naturally there is some concern about the standard of programming that may become available. I should say this concern is not unique to Ireland. It is recognised, within Europe, that the only effective way to ensure that reasonable standards of broadcasting are maintained is by taking action at international level. Here I should say that Deputy Colley drew a very clear scenario of the difficulties we shall encounter in equating our standards with those of, say, Italy or Germany. There is a very real problem there. As Deputy Colley and Deputy Barrett are aware, the EC proposes to issue a directive aimed at establishing basic standards which member state will be required to impose on broadcasting services originating in their own states. Similarly, the Council of Europe  which embraces a wider geographical area than the European Community is preparing a convention on trans-frontier broadcasting. We are also monitoring this carefully. I hope these will be successful. I have my worries and my doubts and I can say that I truly share the view, held I am sure by Deputy Barrett and Deputy Colley, that many people involved in satellite television are in it solely for the money. Whether these big multinational companies will be able to influence thinking is another matter but it is something about which we must be very wary and be prepared to deal with as best we can in order to protect our own standards and society.
In the light of what I have said I am sure the Members of the House would agree that the system we are putting in place for video films is in keeping with the thinking on controls in relation to television services in Europe. I agree with Deputy Colley when she said that video films are a very potent medium. Obviously pictures give a clearer image than the written word and certainly moving pictures are even more powerful again. Video films are the most powerful and most potent of all. Not only is there a moving film but, the facilities are there to stop the film and to replay a scene over and over again. This, too, is a source of concern to us having regard to the sort of film we all agree is most objectionable and wish to prevent from being shown.
Reference was also made to the responsibility of parents. Each and every one of us would agree, a number of Members of my own party referred strongly to this, on the role which parents have to play. We can legislate all we like but we will find it very difficult to close all the loopholes. I think it was Deputy Mooney who said unless parents play their role and fulfil their parental responsibilities, we cannot be sure of any degree of success. I hope that they do. This Bill will mark an enormous improvement on the present position but as I said, we can only go so far. Parents will have to come the rest of the way with us.
Deputy Taylor and Deputy De Rossa  spoke about the possibility that one of the effects of this Bill will be harder and more restrictive censorship. This will not be the case. As I said in my opening remarks, the Bill was drafted in keeping with existing legislation dealing with censorship of publications and cinema films. I draw the attention of Deputies specifically to section 3 (3) of the Bill which provides that the censor may not refuse to supply a certificate in respect of a video work in respect of which a general or limited certificate has been granted under the Censorship of Films Act, 1973 to 1970. This subsection was inserted in the Seanad and demonstrates clearly that the effect of this Bill will not be harder or more restrictive censorship.
I agree with Deputy Mooney when she said that a combination of brutal sex and violence in video films is extremely dangerous. That is a view we all share — that this type of film causes harm to some people. As I said at the outset, these films lead to crimes against women, the most obvious victims. There are others also. Not so very long ago I read the report of a court case in The Sunday Times in which a person was convicted of rape. The convicted person said to the judge that on the night prior to the dreadful event he watched a number of pornographic video films and the judge drew the conclusion from what he had heard during the course of the trial that watching those particular video films was enough to push that person to do what he did.
Deputy De Rossa said that only a small number of impressionable people would be led into crime through watching violent films. That may be so, but society has a right to be protected from this danger. As I said previously in the other House, in publiic and in an interview on radio recently with John Bowman, the Bill has to strike a balance and we are all genuinely trying to strike the right balance between the good of society as a whole and individual rights. That is the key to the success of this Bill and we have been very careful in its drafting to let that be our guiding principle. As was pointed out, it is necessary to curtail to some  extent individual rights in order to provide more protection for society as a whole. We are not going to deprive individuals of anything important or curtail the supply of video films; nobody wants to do anything like that.
I am sure that not many Deputies want to see the type of video films we are talking about but it was suggested to me prior to the commencement of this debate, during the course of the debate in the other House and again today that the type of film we are talking about is new to quite a number of the Members of this House. I can truly say that they were new to me. So that I would know exactly what we were talking about the officials in my Department insisted that I should sit down and look at some of these films. I was told of the three types of film — soft pornographic, hard core pornography and video nasty. I truly thought there was no need for me to look at any of these films as one would have a fair idea of what these films are like. It was suggested that if I were going to view these films that I would look at one of each type. I looked at the time factor involved as time is an important element. These films last between one and one and a half hours but I was able to go through the three films in about 15 minutes because truly they were sickening. I suggest that those Deputies who are not present, in particular Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Taylor who was more worried about a statement he attributed to the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and in the process forgetting other statements made by other very responsible bodies such as the Council for the Status of Women, who have doubts that we may be going too far and might be tipping the balance in the wrong direction, that they are welcome to come to the Department of Justice at a time that suits them to view some of the filth and dirt we are talking about. I think they will then be able to clear their political consciences of any slight doubts they may have in regard to whether we have struck the right balance in the interests of the community as a whole.
Deputy De Rossa questioned whether  the watching of violent or pornographic video films could have an adverse effect on viewers and lead to crime. It is notoriously difficult to obtain conclusive evidence on the connection between watching video films and actual crime but I am satisfied that the watching of extremely violent films cannot but have a detrimental effect on viewers. I am satisfied that in some cases the viewing of such material can have the effect of pushing very impressionable people over the edge, and in the process causing them to commit crime. I have already referred to the 1986 report of the American Attorney General and the fact that the findings of that report completely reversed the thinking arising from an earlier report presented in 1970 by the same office. We have to learn from that experience.
Deputy Flanagan remarked that it is important that all video retail outlets be registered. This, of course, will be achieved through the licensing system provided for in the Bill. I can reassure Deputy Flanagan and Deputy Roche, who also made the point, about the renting of video films from vans. I think Deputy Colley also mentioned the van problem, too, the mobile shop. The interpretation section of the Bill, section 1, takes care of this point by including the word “vehicle” in the definition of premises.
Deputy Roche spoke very clearly about the balance between civil liberties and the public good and the way that balance is reflected in the Bill. He also said we have a duty to introduce laws which are workable. This latter point is very important in the context of the debate about whether to have a classification system. I would ask those who favour a classification system to reflect on whether it could be implemented effectively. In my view it could not and to introduce such a system would lead to ineffective legislation and it would be a waste of time for the Garda to try to enforce it.
Some Deputies spoke about the resources necessary to implement the Bill. The explanatory memorandum  accompanying the Bill gives some details on this particular point. Details were given of the extra staff who will be employed in the Film Censor's office and of the extra equipment which will be provided for that office. The costs of the extra staff and equipment will, of course, be met not by the taxpayers — as Deputy Colley and, I think, Deputy Barrett pointed out earlier on — but from the charges made by the Film Censor. This point was discussed at an early stage with representatives of the trade and there was agreement from the start that all costs arising from the Bill would be met by fees. This is provided for in section 32 of the Bill.
A question was asked about what happens after a film is submitted to the censor — will he be able to cope with the volume of films submitted to him? Deputy Colley, Deputy McDowell and a number of other Deputies raised that question. There are two points on this. First, the censor will have assistant censors working to him and, secondly, the Film Censor or his assistant need not view each film. In many cases a decision can be made on the basis of the title or the censor's knowledge of, say, the producer that the work is unobjectionable and that a supply certificate may be granted. This is a matter we can tease out on Committee Stage. As I said earlier, it is hoped that as and from day one of the enactment of the Bill, the censor will start clearing all new videos as they come on stream and try to deal with what is already there. Deputy Colley asked if I could give any idea of the time. I cannot as of now but bearing in mind that the charges will be totally met from costs, there will not be any question of a lack of manpower or resources. They will just have to clear them. If we are to achieve what we want to achieve it is important that they get stuck into the backlog as fast as they can.
Mr. Collins: Yes, that would be around the number. It is estimated that there will be 1,000 new titles coming on stream on a yearly basis. It is not considered to be a major problem and I hope that that is a correct assumption.
Deputy Ahern inquired if the standards for retail outlets should be “beefed up”. The main objective of the Bill is to control the supply of video films. The Bill does this while keeping the restrictions on trade to the minimum necessary to achieve that objective. I am satisfied that the existing provisions in the Bill will lead to the objective of the Bill being achieved and that, accordingly, no beefing up of the standards for retail outlets will be necessary. That point was raised in a different way by Deputy Colley who said that if we insist on standards we will probably encourage people to go underground. That would defeat the purpose of the Bill.
Deputy McGahon referred to the need to ensure that the provisions of the Bill will be enforced by the Garda. I am confident that that will be the case. The Bill has been drafted with a view to making its enforcement easy. That is important because if they were difficult to enforce we all recognise that that would not be helpful to us. The Bill provides for labelling of video films. This gives information to the public but it also makes it very easy for the Garda to check on whether the video work has a supply certificate. Similarly the registers of licence holders and the need to display licences will aid the enforcement of the Act by the Garda. We bore in mind the difficulties the Garda would have in enforcing the legislation when we were drafting the Bill and we tried to make it as easy as we possible could for them.
There were some suggestions that the Bill should prohibit the manufacture of video films. Since the control has to depend on the judgment of the Film Censor and since he will not see the film until it is made, one cannot really prohibit manufacture in advance. This is a very difficult problem. It is not an offence to make a cinema film or to write a book but it will be an offence to possess a  banned video film for the purpose of supplying it. Sections 5 and 8 of the Bill cover this. I am sure we can go into this in greater detail on Committee Stage.
Deputy Wright spoke about the concerns of parents in relation to video films. I am sure that his concern is shared by parents up and down the country and we can be sure that we have the backing of all of them in our efforts to frame the best possible Bill. I do not think any of us could stress too often the role parents play in this regard. I believe I am correct in this and in time I should like to hear the views of the other Members on it. I think there are lots of parents outside who, probably like lots of Deputies inside, do not know what we are really talking about. I say that with deep regret. There are parents who are not aware that these sorts of films are available — soft porn, hard porn and video nasties. If they knew they would be shocked. We started from scratch on this Bill about a year and a half ago and we brought it before the Seanad about this time last year. On occasion, particularly when the Bill was before the Seanad, I had discussions with people, parents and others, outside this House and truthfully their knowledge of what was available was extremely sketchy. Parents are extremely busy and are not always terribly concerned by what their children see on television. They assume that the sort of filth and objectionable material we are talking about is not available but regrettably that is not so. I hope that in some way parents can be reminded of their obligations in this regard. Much publicity has been given to this topic since the Bill was published. A very worthwhile “Today Tonight” programme on the subject was put out by RTE and there has been quite a lot of newspaper coverage on it also. All of us should be thankful for that. We are not always complimentary about the media, nor indeed would they always be complimentary about us, but be that as it may, they have their job to do and we have our job to do. However, in this instance we should express our appreciation to the media for what they are doing. I hope they will give as much  coverage as they can to the rest of this debate and that parents will in some way be brought in touch with what it is all about.
Deputy Mitchell spoke about the important work done by the Select Committee of Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism in relation to videos. I should mention that I gave consideration to a wide variety of views before deciding on the contents of the Bill. The tenth report of that committee, dealing with controls on video nasties, provided some very important information, comment and proposals. Representations made to me on the subject of video films were a useful source of information also. Another document to which I paid tribute earlier on was supplied to me by the Irish Videogram Association. I have also mentioned the 1986 United States report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography. All this material was considered very carefully before the Bill was drafted. I should say that there was a very constructive debate on the Bill in the Seanad. As Deputies are no doubt aware the debates in that House resulted in some very useful amendments being proposed. These amendments were debated in a very open and constructive way and I am satisfied that the debate led to considerable improvements in the Bill.
The most important set of amendments were those relating to licensing of outlets for video films. No doubt Deputies will be aware that I had doubts about this proposal initially but having listened to the views of the Senators I decided to take it on board and the necessary amendments were built into the Bill. I am quite prepared to consider any and all amendments that come from every Member of this House. I am open about it. I am thankful for the acceptance by all parties of the aims and principles of the Bill. I am thankful for the warm welcome which it received and hope that when we come to Committee Stage we can try to improve the legislation bearing in mind the responsibility imposed on us in what we hope to achieve.
Mr. Collins: I thank the Deputy for his congratulations. In fact one of the first complimentary telephone calls I received on the occasion was from a former colleague of Deputy Barrett, Deputy Tom O'Donnell who spent 25 years in Dáil Éireann representing County Limerick. I am happy that I have been here for 21 years and if the people of Limerick are tolerant enough I hope to be here for a few more years.
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