Censorship in the Republic of Ireland

Censorship in the Republic of Ireland

Although Ireland does not currently exercise much censorship in practice, the state has wide-ranging laws which allow censorship, and has specific laws covering films, advertisements, newspapers and magazines, as well as terrorism and pornography. In the past, books and anything to do with abortion, sexuality and homosexuality could also be banned.

Current censorship

Film censorship

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 movies. 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 (Although there are rare exceptions where they attract a lower age rating such as "The Passion of the Christ") 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 movie rating categories exist, although a movie 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 cert, 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 cert, 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 18's movies may be denied a video release certificate.

However, many movies have been banned in Ireland in the past, including "Monty Python's Life of Brian", "Disney's 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. [http://www.ifco.ie/ifco/ifcoweb.nsf/FAQsLookup2/96612C38D97DB72080256EF600584B5A?OpenDocument&faqquestion=Are+many+films+banned+today?+]

The most notable recent ban was that of "Boy Eats Girl" in 2005, a movie 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 movie has been allowed.

Prior to the [http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/ZZA22Y1989.html 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 weren't 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. At one time a large number of (mainly foreign) newspaper and magazines were banned in Ireland Including Playboy and the News of the World.Fact|date=February 2007


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.Fact|date=September 2008

In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church via Archbishop John Charles McQuaid lobbied the Irish government to have pornography banned outright [ [http://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/?jp=CWSNKFKFAUKF Church insisted on pornography ban in 1960s] ]

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 never banned in Ireland. In 1942 Senator Sir John Keane told the Seanad that 1,600 books had been banned since independence in 1922. [ [http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/S/0027/S.0027.194211180006.html Debate on Censorship 1942] ] He quoted examples of supposed indecency from several books to ridicule the law, but his words were not fully reported in the recordsFact|date=May 2008.

Madonna's controversial book "Sex" was banned several weeks after its release in 1992 but unbanned in 2004.

Books containing references to terrorism or which could be considered slander under Irish law can still be "banned" - you will not be punished 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 syllabusFact|date=May 2008.

Formerly censored topics

The Troubles

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 with RTÉ as the Government maintained the broadcasting ban did not allow word for word broadcast of a speech etc and had sacked the entire 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.cite web | last = Meehan | first = Niall | title = How RTE censored its censorship | publisher = Sunday Business Post | date = 2003-04-20 | url = http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2003/04/20/story432589947.asp | accessdate = 2008-06-24]

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.

The Section 31 broadcasting ban was lifted in 1993 by Minister for Arts, Culture & the Gaeltacht Michael D. Higgins as part of the 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.The reading of the telephone numbers took place during an adjournment debate on 21 May, 1992 on the "Non-Distribution of Newspaper". For the Official Report of the debate, see [http://www.oireachtas-debates.gov.ie:80/D/0420/D.0420.199205210050.html Dáil Éireann - Volume 420 - 21 May, 1992] . At column 159 of the report, Deputy De Rossa read the text of an advertisement in the "The Guardian".]

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 wasn't 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.

Unusual oversights


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 showing 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.

Computer games

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. [ [http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/WP07000583 The Department Of Justice, Equality and Law] ] , 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 6th. [http://www.ifco.ie/ifco/ifcoweb.nsf/web/news?opendocument&news=yes&type=graphic]

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.

Censorship landmarks

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, [cite web | title =Emergency Powers Act, 1939 | work = | publisher = Attorney General of Ireland | date = 1939-09-03 | url = http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1939/en/act/pub/0028/sec0002.html | accessdate = 2007-12-12 ] 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 - Nil (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 publications". 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.

"In Dublin" magazine

In the 1980s and 1990s, an indigenous Irish equivalent of the internationally available "TimeOut" 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.


External links

* [http://www.ifco.ie/ifco/ifcoweb.nsf/web/home?opendocument Irish Film Censors Office website]
* [http://www.acts.ie/plweb-cgi/fastweb?query1=&query2=&query3=&query=Censorship&numresults=50&query4=&query5=&query6=&query7=&sorting=none&TemplateName=prehit.tmpl&view=s0052_english_view&dbname=s0052_english&query_rule=%28%28%28%24query4%29.le.actyear.le.%28%24query5%29%29%20AND%20%28%28%24query6%29%29%3Aactno%20AND%20%28%28%24query7%29%29%3Asectionnumber%20AND%20%28%28%24query1%29%29%3Alongtitle%20AND%20%28%28%24query2%29%29%3Ashorttitle%20AND%20%28%28%24query3%29%29%3Asidehead%20AND%20%28%28%24query%29%29%29&operator=and Irish statutes referring to 'censorship']
* [http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/201/ Censorship in Ireland] - from the International Freedom of Expression Exchange
* [http://www.oasis.gov.ie/culture_and_recreation/arts_and_culture/censorship_in_ireland/censorship_of_publications_in_ireland.html Censorship of publications in Ireland] — from the official Irish government information website
* [http://www.oasis.gov.ie/utilities/redirect.php?url=http://www.justice.ie/80256E010039C5AF/vWeb/flJUSQ62MDSR-en/%24File/Prohibi.pdf List of prohibited publications in Ireland between 1993 and 2003] — PDF document from the Irish Department of Justice
* [http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,6761,1561649,00.html Tales out of school] — Irish author John McGahern's experience with the Irish censorship system
* [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2248555.html Sunday Times article on Irish Censor's office]

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