Although in recent times Ireland rarely exercises much censorship in practice, the state has wide-ranging laws which allow for censorship, including specific laws covering films, advertisements, newspapers and magazines, as well as terrorism and pornography. However, in the early years of the state censorship was widely enforced, particularly in areas which were opposed by Catholic dogma; including abortion, sexuality and homosexuality.
In the past, Ireland's Film Censors Office renamed in 2008 to the Irish Film Classification Office heavily cut films, and also videos for rental release; or placed extremely high age ratings on them. However, since the release of Michael Collins in 1996, which was rated PG for historical reasons, despite its depictions of extreme violence, the censors office has reduced age ratings in general and rarely cuts films. For example, the controversial 2004 film 9 Songs was released uncut with an 18s certificate. Ratings usually match those of the UK, or are one level higher or lower.Also, in 2000 The Cider House Rules received an 18s certificate in Ireland due to its themes of abortion and incest, despite the fact that in UK the film received a mere 12s certificate.
Six film rating categories exist, although a film may have been re-rated by the time of its video/DVD release.
G, into which anyone is allowed
PG, into which anyone is allowed but parental consent is advised, and is down to the discretion of the cinema or video library
12A, a cinema-only certificate, which those over the age of 12 or those with parental consent may watch. Was formerly called 12PG, does not exist for video releases
15A, a cinema-only certificate, into which those over the age of 15 or those with parental consent may enter. Was formerly called 15PG.
16, a cinema-only rating for content which imposes less restriction on violent content, sexual content, and drug usage. Very few films receive this rating, and those that do generally are either cut or uprated to 18 on video release.
18, into which only those over the age of 18 may enter
Three separate categories exist for video releases, although only two are in use:
12RA, which cannot be supplied to anyone under the age of 12, and which has a suggestion for a "Responsible Adult" to be present if a younger person watches the film (no longer issued)
12, which cannot be supplied to anyone under the age of 12
15, which cannot be supplied to anyone under the age of 15
The G, PG and 18 certifications have the same principles on video, but some 18s films may be denied a video release certificate.
However, many films have been banned in Ireland in the past, including Monty Python's Life of Brian, Fantasia, From Dusk Till Dawn and A Clockwork Orange. A review in 2000 has meant that many of these have since been un-banned and rated anywhere from PG to 18. During that review process it was decided that no more films would be banned for either theatre or video release, but some bans are still in place.
The Film Censors Office's official figures state that 2,500 films received theatrical performance bans, and over 11,000 films were cut, mainly pre-1965.
The most notable recent ban was that of Boy Eats Girl in 2005, a film starring Irish actress Samantha Mumba, due its graphic depiction of a suicide attempt. Following an appeal, it was allowed pass uncut to a 15A rating, far from the highest possible.
Films which are banned and do not have an appeal lodged, or which fail on appeal, have an enforcement noticed published in Iris Oifigiúil, the state's journal. The most recent enforcement notice, as of 2005, appeared in the September 20, 2005 journal, and was the first of the year. Revocation notices are also published in the journal, for when a film has been allowed.
Prior to the Video Recordings Act 1989 many films which were banned in the cinema were freely available on video tape to anyone in Ireland regardless of age.
The restrictions on "film clubs" are far lighter than those applied to commercial cinemas. At one time this gave rise to an interesting legal anomaly where the 35 mm prints of a particular film would to be required to have any "cuts" mandated by the Film Censors Office whereas the 16 mm prints were not, on the erroneous belief that all 16mm prints were destined for private film clubs. In practice some commercial cinemas in smaller towns as well as "travelling cinemas" (often showing films in village halls owned by the Catholic Church) were only equipped to show the 16mm prints. The closure of virtually all of these smaller cinemas (owing to the rising popularity of television and video) has meant that nowadays the only places showing these 16mm prints are bona fide film clubs.
Advertisements are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, and must be truthful and factually accurate. In addition, adverts for illegal services are not allowed. The ASAI is a voluntary industry body which has no statuatory powers and has no power to remove a publication from circulation. This power is vested in the Censorship of Publications Board. Given the status of the ASAI some advertisers choose to continually ignore its rulings by running controversial advertisements purely to draw attention to their products and services.
Newspapers and magazines:
Whilst still theoretically censorable, newspapers and magazines are free to publish anything which does not break Ireland's tough libel laws. The Censorship of Publications Board reviews newspapers and magazines referred to it by the Customs and Excise and by members of the public. Until the late 1980s a large number of (mainly foreign) newspaper and magazines were banned in Ireland Including Playboy and the News of the World, the British edition of which is still, theoretically, banned.
The listing of periodicals under permanent banning orders as of 2007 includes many publications which have ceased to be published, as well as ones which are now sold freely without any realistic chance of prosecution, such as Health and Efficiency and The Weekly News. A large proportion of the banning orders date from the 1950s or before; and a similar proportion cover true crime publications, a type which were once illegal due to a perceived risk of glorifying or encouraging criminal behaviour.
Hardcore pornography, while legal in Ireland, isn't allowed to depict any acts which are illegal in the state. This also covers any participants being beneath the Irish age of consent. If any of these are in a video, DVD, film, photograph or website, use and possession of them is illegal.
In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church via Archbishop John Charles McQuaid lobbied the Irish government to have pornography banned outright.
The Financial Regulator:
In July 2009, the Financial Regulator blocked insurers and banks from making any critical statements containing "any references to the Financial Regulator" by means either of "public press statements" or un-approved public references, whether "written or oral."
The Irish Constitution states that "The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law". This is currently enforced through the Defamation Act 2009, section 36. The law includes the offence of blasphemous libel. It has yet to be enforced.
The new blasphemy law was enacted in 2009, allowing for fines of up to €25,000, simply because blasphemy was forbidden under the 1937 constitution but was unenforceable. The eminent scientist Richard Dawkins described the new law as "wretched, backward and uncivilised". The text defines the crime where: he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage. A defendant's lawyer would argue the meaning of "grossly", "intent" and "substantial number". Further, a "religion" is further defined in s.36 (4); it - does not include an organisation or cult- (a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or (b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation- (i) of its followers, or (ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers. Arguably this could exclude almost all known religions.
Censorship of books:
Until the 1970s, it was commonplace for books to be banned for containing violence, sex, cursing, references to birth control, and so on. This has since ceased, and virtually all books banned have been unbanned. In the past, many books of undoubted literary merit, as well as serious books on reproductive issues and sexual health, were banned. Contrary to popular belief, James Joyce's 'Ulysses' was technically never banned in Ireland, but this was because it was never imported and offered for sale, for fear of such a ban and its attendant costs. In 1942 Senator Sir John Keane told the Seanad that 1,600 books had been banned since independence in 1922. He quoted examples of supposed indecency from several books to ridicule the law, but his words were not fully reported in the records.
The Tailor and Ansty by Eric Cross was banned in 1942 for mentioning a couple who were cohabiting.
Madonna's controversial book Sex was banned several weeks after its release in 1992 but unbanned in 2004, due to the 12 year limitation on initial banning orders.
Books containing references to terrorism or which could be considered slander under Irish law can still be banned - one will not be prosecuted for owning or importing them, but their sale is prohibited. This covers books such as The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, which has even been pulled from Amazon.com due to its content. However, importing this book and its sale second-hand are legal.
There are instances of books which were at one time banned in Ireland subsequently not only having the ban overturned but the books in question becoming required reading on the Leaving Certificate syllabus.
A 2007 era listing of banned books showed that none had been banned since 1998.
Formerly censored topics:
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland censorship was used to prevent Sinn Féin and IRA members from having access to the media. Under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, it was forbidden to broadcast the voice of Sinn Féin members. This rule was brought in by Fianna Fáil Minister for Posts & Telegraphs Gerry Collins in 1971 and strengthened by Labour's Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1977.
The United Kingdom operated a similar rule between 1988 and 1994, although British broadcasters subverted this censorship by dubbing Sinn Féin speeches and interviews, with an actor's voice repeating the speech word-for-word. This was not possible in Ireland as the Government maintained the broadcasting ban did not allow word for word broadcast of a speech etc and had sacked the entire Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) authority in 1971 and jailed RTÉ's Kevin O Kelly when he interviewed IRA chief of staff Sean Mac Stiofain but did not say he was the voice on a taped interview.
However RTÉ even refused to broadcast Sinn Féin members when they were talking about matters completely unrelated to the Northern Troubles. For example, Sinn Féin member Larry O'Toole was not permitted to appear on RTÉ to talk about a trade union dispute he was involved in. Instead, clips of the speaker talking were shown, along with a brief summary of what was being said. The High Court later found that this exclusion was not justified under Section 31.
In 1991, European Commission of Human Rights upheld the ban in case Purcell v. Ireland, though not unanimously. The Section 31 broadcasting ban was lifted in 1993 by Minister for Arts, Culture & the Gaeltacht Michael D. Higgins as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
Abortion and birth control:
Until the early 1990s, promotion of abortion in any way, including providing impartial information, was disallowed, and any publications providing information on it would be confiscated. Copies of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan women's magazines sold in the Republic were specially printed with blank pages instead of advertisements for abortion clinics. In the 1980s, the Irish Family Planning Association and the Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin students' unions were successfully sued by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children for publishing telephone numbers for abortion clinics in the United Kingdom. On one occasion British newspaper The Guardian was withdrawn by its Irish distributors for a day to preempt a threatened ban due to the inclusion of an advertisement for a UK abortion clinic in that day's issue (despite the advert having appeared on a number of prior occasions without incident).
In May 1992, the Democratic Left T.D. Proinsias De Rossa subverted this ban by reading the offending telephone numbers into the Dáil record, using his absolute privilege as a member of the Oireachtas to avoid a lawsuit.
In the wake of the X Case, the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of Ireland removed this prohibition in November 1992.
Prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in Ireland (in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights' decision in Norris v. Ireland), the media was not allowed promote it in a positive light (although this prohibition was often ignored particularly by publications such as Hot Press and In Dublin). This has since been removed, and discriminating against homosexuality is now illegal.
Censorship of mail in Ireland goes back to, at least, the 1660s and possibly earlier. Both overt and covert censorship of Irish mail took place, mainly in England and sometimes using warrants, from then through the 19th century. The Irish Civil War saw mail raided by the IRA marked as censored and sometimes opened. This is the first recorded such action within the new state. The National Army also opened mail and censorship of irregulars' mail in prisons took place.
During the 1939-1945 Emergency extensive postal censorship took place under the control of the Department of Defence whose powers were conferred by the Emergency Powers Act 1939. Civilian mail was controlled by the approximately 200 censors who worked in Dublin's Exchequer Street and who had all been vetted by G2 and the Gardaí. Using the Black List and White List to target certain mail, the small staff were unable to effect 100% censorship however, continental European mail was all reviewed as was all incoming and outbound airmail. Following the overthrow of France and the Low Countries in May 1940, the British instigated full terminal mail censorship but the Irish were unable to look at more than about 10% due to the enormous staff this would have required. Covert censorship of mail between Northern Ireland and the south was effected by warrants obtained by G2, who also obtained warrants from the Minister for Justice for internal mail oversight.
The military internees, British, German and a few of other nationalities, held in the Curragh Camp had their mail censored, even local mail, though they are known to have posted their letters outside the camp to try and evade the camp oversight. IRA internees' mail was also censored under the Offences against the State Act that had been in place since June 1939.
The Border Campaign led to the internment of IRA members, again under the Offences against the State Act, and their mail was overtly censored between 1957 and 1960 most often with an Irish language censor mark reading Ceadaithe ag an gCinsire Mileata applied to the outside of the letter and also to the sheets contained within. In the 1980s mail from IRA members imprisoned in Limerick and likely also Portlaoise prisons has been recorded as censored but there is no record of civilian mail censorship since 1945.
Music videos are exempt from film classification, whereas in the UK, they must be classified. Broadcasters usually use their discretion and obey the UK classifications and showing time restrictions. Ireland receives all of the UK music channels, which are subject to UK music video laws; with the only Irish regulated broadcaster regularly show-ing music videos being Channel 6 or City Channel. However for several years TV3 Ireland ran a late-night music programme, which quite often showed uncensored music videos containing large amounts of nudity.
References to records or songs being "banned" in Ireland refer to one or more radio stations refusing to play the songs rather than any legislative ban, although prior to 1989 it may have been a moot point given that the only legal broadcasting stations in Ireland were those operated by state broadcaster RTÉ. In the 1930s there was even a short-lived airplay ban on an entire genre of music known as the "ban on Jazz" (with an exceptionally wide definition of what constituted "jazz"). Such bans only served to further increase listenership to foreign radio stations (such as Radio Luxembourg and the BBC) in Ireland, and lead to the growth of Irish pirate radio.
The ban by the Irish courts of the song "They never came home" by Christy Moore along with the original version of the album "Ordinary Man" on which it appeared has apparently never been overturned.
Unlike most other countries, the Film Censors Office have little involvement in video game censorship. This led to an unusual situation where in the 1990s the UK-owned GAME sold the sanitised versions of Carmageddon which was a victim of censorship in the UK, whilst Irish owned stores sold the uncut versions imported from the United States. Games may only be banned if the Film Censor judges that it is unfit for viewing, which has happened once to date, with the banning of Manhunt 2 on the 18 June 2007, over two weeks before its launch date of July 6.
Ireland is a member of PEGI, but places no legal powers on its age recommendations. Retailers may attempt to enforce them at their discretion, but in the case of a protest they must sell the product to the customer.
Development of Irish statutes:
The Censorship of Films Act, 1923 was an act "to provide for the official censoring of cinematographic pictures and for other matters connected therewith". It established the office of the Official Censor of Films and a Censorship of Films Appeal Board. It was amended by the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act, 1925, in connection with advertisements for films. It was amended by the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Act, 1930 to extend the legislation to "vocal or other sounds" accompanying pictures.
The Committee on Evil Literature was appointed in 1926 to report on the effectiveness of the censorship laws. It concluded that the then-current censorship laws were inadequate, and that the government had a duty to ban "morally corrupting" literature.
The Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 was an act "to make provision for the prohibition of the sale and distribution of unwholesome literature and for that purpose to provide for the establishment of a censorship of books and periodical publications, and to restrict the publication of reports of certain classes of judicial proceedings and for other purposes incidental to the matters aforesaid". It established the Censorship of Publications Board. A book caught by the act was one that "in its general tendency indecent or obscene ... or ... advocates the unnatural prevention of conception or the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such prevention or such miscarriage".
The Emergency Powers Act 1939 dealt with the preservation of the State in time of war and contained provisions relating to the censorship of communications, including mail, newspapers and periodicals.
On 18 November 1942 Senator Sir John Keane moved in the Irish Senate (Seanad Éireann): "That, in the opinion of Seanad Éireann, the Censorship of Publications Board appointed by the Minister for Justice under the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, has ceased to retain public confidence, and that steps should be taken by the Minister to reconstitute the board.". After four days of debate, the motion was roundly defeated: Tá (for) 2 votes - Sir John Keane and Joseph Johnston - Níl (against) 34 votes.
The Censorship of Publications Act, 1946 repealed a large part of the 1929 act and was "to make further and better provision for the censorship of books and periodical publica-tions". Periodicals caught by the act included issues that "have devoted an unduly large proportion of space to the publication of matter relating to crime".
The Censorship of Publications Act, 1967 provided for prohibition orders made on the grounds of indecency or obscenity to expire after a period of twelve years. A further prohibition order could then be made by the Censorship of Publications Board in respect of the same book.
The Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 deleted references to "the unnatural prevention of conception" in the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 and the Censorship of Publications Act, 1946.
The Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for Termination of Pregnancies) Act, 1995 modified the effect of the Censorship of Publications Acts, 1929 to 1967 in respect of certain information likely to be required by a woman to avail herself of "services provided outside the State for the termination of pregnancies". However, the information in question must not advocate or promote the termination of pregnancy.
The Defamation Act, 2009 which forbids blasphemy (with intent) at s.36.
In Dublin magazine:
In the 1980s and 1990s, an indigenous Irish equivalent of the internationally available Time Out magazine called In Dublin existed. The magazine was renowned for its advertisements for Massage Parlours and Bathhouses. When it was finally proven in 1999 that the advertisements were for prostitution services, the magazine was forcibly withdrawn from circulation for six months and ceased to exist. Although a short lived replacement called "Dublin" appeared which was a remarkably similar in every respect (i.e. cover design was almost identical, it was published by the same company and employed the same editorial and journalistic staff).
The trademark has since changed hands and the current In Dublin magazine doesn't advertise the type of institution that could possibly be a brothel.