Adjournment Debate. - Register of Prohibited Publications.

Tuesday, 28 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 449 No. 7

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Mr. E. Byrne: Information on Eric J. Byrne  Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  During the past few years Ireland has, often painfully, been forced to grow up and rip apart the veil of secrecy which, for decades, smothered our society. We have been forced to throw the squinting windows wide open and admit that society is not immune from violence in the home, child neglect, crime and questionable financial dealings in high places.

As the State attains social and political maturity it is under a particular obligation to recognise and respect the maturity of its citizens. The policy document A Government of Renewal, is strongly committed to ensuring citizens have maximum access to information. The three Government parties are committed to ensuring that, in future, power will not be exercised behind the closed doors of smoke filled rooms. We are determined to ensure that power deriving from the people will be exercised in the full view of the people.

Freedom of information goes further than amending the Officials Secrets Act and reviewing the Cabinet confidentiality rule, important as these are. The time has come to recognise that Irish citizens are capable of handling information, distinguishing the good from the bad and the mediocre and making clear choices. Yet, sad to reflect in 1995 our citizens are denied access to the works of authors ranging from Bertrand [1967] Russell to Upton Sinclair because their works were deemed to be indecent, obscene or because they advocate “the unnatural prevention of conception”— we all know how unnatural it is to plan one's family — according to section 16 (5) of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946.

Freedom of information, Irish style, means that Old Moore's Almanac, 1951 and 1964 are deemed unfit for adult consumption. Freedom of information, Irish style, means that Irish citizens are not considered mature enough to read H. G. Wells's work entitled The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. It means that while we can watch Taggart or Hillstreet Blues on television we cannot read anodyne detective stories published in the 1950s because they are banned. Freedom of information, Irish style, means that some of Simone de Beauvoir's books are taboo as we near the end of the 20th century. These books, with many others, are listed in part 2 of the Register of Prohibited Publications and will remain prohibited until the appeal board revokes the prohibition order. A quick glance at the register takes one back to an earlier and infinitely nastier time when Archbishop McQuaid was in his palace, de Valera was in the Park and individual freedom was sacrificed to social conformity.

There are books on the list which have been prohibited for over 60 years. Many of them can be bought in any reputable book store and I am sure Members probably have some of them on their shelves at home. Yet, technically and legally, they remain banned until the author, publishers or five Members of the Oireachtas make representations to the appeal board seeking a review. Many of the authors are dead, many of the publishers have gone out of business and it would be a painstaking exercise for five Members of the Oireachtas to trawl through 40 close-typed pages seeking books on which to appeal.

The greater good will always demand that some forms of information are [1968] restricted. No society in these days of multi-media and new technologies can allow an information free for all. I have no problem with legislation which restricts the availability of video nasties for children or with the prohibition on incitement to hatred legislation. I wish its provisions were invoked more often.

While innocuous books by Bertrand Russell or Upton Sinclair remain banned, not one prosecution has been taken so far under our anti-hate laws. I urge the Minister to undertake a thorough review, in the short term, of the Register of Prohibited Publications and, in the long term, of our censorship legislation.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Currie): Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  I thank the Deputy for raising the matter of the need to review and update the Register of Prohibited Publications and for giving me the opportunity to clarify what is happening in this regard.

I am aware, from numerous reports in the press, of the Deputy's keen interest in this matter and I fully appreciate his concern that the register, which has not been updated since 1985, may still contain works by certain authors which, with the passage of time — and if they were being considered afresh — might not be prohibited.

I will explain a little the background to the compilation of this register to clarify the position for the Deputy.

The publication of a Register of Prohibited Publications by the Censorship of Publications Board, which we are discussing, is provided for by section 16 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946. The register contains alphabetical listings of both prohibited books and periodicals. The register of prohibited books is published in two distinct parts.

Part 1 contains particulars of books prohibited on the grounds that they are indecent or obscene. In this regard, the prohibition order made in respect of any book named in Part 1 ceases to have effect on 31 December following the 12th anniversary of the date it was published in Iris Oifigiúil, if it has not [1969] already been revoked by the appeal board.

Where two or more prohibition orders refer to the same book, they all cease to have effect when the one first made ceases. Having re-examined the book the Censorship Board may, make a further prohibition order.

Part 2 contains details of books prohibited on the grounds that they are indecent or obscene and/or that, inter alia, they advocate the unnatural prevention of conception or the procurement of abortion. The position with regard to publications listed in this part of the register is that they remain prohibited unless and until the appeal board revokes the prohibition order.

As the Deputy may be aware, section 8 of the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946, provides several avenues of appeal for the revocation of the prohibition order.

An appeal can be made by the author of the book, by the editor of a periodical, or by the publisher of the book or periodical.

As the Deputy is aware, it is open to him and any other four Members of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann to appeal any prohibition order. Any such appeals are made to the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board, which may, as it thinks proper, affirm or revoke the prohibition order. The board may also vary the order so as to exclude from the application any particular edition of the prohibited book published before, on or after the date of the prohibition order.

At this stage I should like to clarify the function of the Minister for Justice in regard to the review, updating and publication of the register. In accordance with section 16 (3) and (5) of the 1946 Act it is a matter for the Censorship Board to review, update and publish the register. The Minister for Justice's sole function in this regard is to ensure that this is carried out regularly.

I assure the Deputy that the Minister is aware of his concern in regard to this matter and is arranging for the Censorship Board to review and update the [1970] register and have the updated register published in due course.

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