Ireland’s censorship board will list no banned books for first time in New Year

A racy English tabloid which has all but abandoned any pretence of reporting any actual news, an American “tabloid” magazine, and a surprising number of “true detective” magazines are among the periodicals banned by the censor.

But the Censorship of Publications Board, once infamous for banning works by authors from Brendan Behan (the Borstal Boy) and Edna O’Brien (the Country Girls), is now moribund, listing only 14 book titles in Part I (books banned on the grounds of obscenity), and eight titles in Part II (books banned because they contain information on the procurement of abortion).

Adolus Huxley’s Brave New World and Eric Cross’s The Tailor and Ansty were at one time on the list of publications deemed unsuitable for Irish eyes.

But contrary to popular belief, James Joyce’s Ulysses was not banned in the country of his birth, although the US Post Office did seize and burn 500 copies in 1922.

Realising that no copy would ever make it past Ireland’s infamous censors, the publishers never bothered to send any copies to Ireland, so the censor was denied the chance to ban it.

Censorship in Ireland is nothing new of course. In earlier times, Gulliver’s Travels was banned for being “wicked and obscene.”

In more recent times, Madonna’s Sex made the list in 1992, but hit Irish news shelves in 2004 when the twelve year prohibition expired.

Freely available

Today, Part III of the censor’s Register of Prohibited Publications, available from the department of justice website and itemising banned periodicals, still runs to several pages, though it would appear many of the bans are not enforced.

Listed among the banned titles are the News of the World and the “Overseas” Daily Mirror. The Daily Sport, which looks to all intents and purposes like a tabloid newspaper, but contains no actual news, is also on the list.

Several of the titles on the list are freely available in Irish newsagents and supermarkets. No expiration dates are given for any of the orders banning periodicals, and several attempts to contact the censorship board this morning were unsuccessful. Perhaps their Christmas holidays have already begun, or they may simply be stuck at home because of the snow.

Eoin O’Dell, a fellow and senior lecturer at the School of law, Trinity College Dublin, and maintainer of the Cearta legal blog, has called for the board of censors to be abolished, rather than allowed to wither on the vine.

The board was set up in 1929 under section three of the Censorship of Publications Act.

But it has not banned a single book in the last dozen years, which means all the titles listed in the last report, dated 31 December 2009, will expire on New Year’s Eve.

For the first time since it was set up, no books will be banned in Ireland.

O’Dell criticises the coy government attitude to the board, which does not have a website of its own, only a single reference on the website of the Irish Film Classification Office and a mention on the department of justice site.

“Perhaps this neglect is because it embarrasses our lords and masters,” O’Dell writes. “It certainly embarrasses me. But instead of letting it wither quietly into oblivion, we should have the courage publicly to abolish it.

“The sooner Fine Gael’s Bonfire of the Quangos does away with this monument to our forefathers’ self-consciousness, the better.”