October 29, 2013

Ireland to consider ending censorship of books


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Ireland’s Republican party, Fianna Fáil, has introduced a motion to disband the Irish Censorship of Publications Board which, if successful, would end just under a century of literary censorship.

The Censorship Board began life in 1926 as the Committee on Evil Literature before someone boring got control and renamed it. The Censorship Board bans books for indecency, obscenity, blasphemy, and works that promote “unnatural” birth control and abortion.

Ireland’s book censorship is famously one of the strictest in the Western world, and has targeted thousands of authors including John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Once books are banned they cannot be published or sold except on the second-hand market; this lasts for twelve years and the ban can be extended upon expiry. James Joyce’s Ulysses was never formally banned, however the threat of a ban meant that Irish publishers and booksellers refused to carry it for many years, until its reputation had already been established and defended abroad.

The reasoning behind abolishing the board was given by party spokesperson Niall Collins: “The fact that no new board members have been appointed since 2011 is a testament to the fact that the board has outlived its use, as the internet completely by-passes it.” Outright censorship by the board has declined since the 90’s, with only eight titles referred to the board since the year 2000, nearly all self-help books about sex.

More than 250 magazine publications remain under a permanent ban, many of which are now-defunct. These include dozens of true crime publications such as American Detective, which were originally targeted for glorifying crime.

The Irish tourism industry’s capitalization on authors such as Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett has been only one of many glaring contradictions between the culture of contemporary Ireland and its institutional hold-overs from the period of religious fervor following independence. In a more overt clash of old-and-new, a law passed in 2009 that included provisions to enforce the government’s anti-blasphemy stance to the tune of up to €25,000. Our old friend Richard Dawkins was for once justified in his criticism of the law as “backward and uncivilized.”


Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.