Censorship of publications
The Censorship of Publications Board is an independent board established by law to examine books and periodicals for sale in Ireland. The Board may prohibit the sale and distribution of books and periodicals if they are found to be obscene. A prohibition on the sale and distribution of a particular publication means that it is illegal for this book to be bought, sold or distributed around the country. Books that are prohibited may be appealed to the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board. Both the Censorship of Publications Board and the Appeals Board consist of five members each. Members of both boards are appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality. Posts on these boards are without remuneration (i.e., they are unpaid).
The Censorship of Publications Board will examine any book or periodical referred to it by a Customs and Excise officer and any book referred to it by a member of the public. It may also examine any book or periodical on its own initiative. In Ireland, there is no category of restricted access - a publication is either prohibited or it is not prohibited. The Board does not prohibit publications very often, and in some years, nothing is prohibited.
The Board has regular meetings to discuss publications referred to it. Every member of the Board will have read the publication before the meeting. For a book to be prohibited, at least three members must agree with the decision and only one can dissent (i.e., disagree). If the prohibition is passed, it comes into effect as soon as it is announced in Iris Oifigúil (Ireland's official State gazette). A prohibition order on a book ceases on the 31 December following a period of 12 years beginning on the date of the order coming into effect. A first prohibition order on a periodical is for 3, 6 or 12 months, depending on how often it is published. A second or subsequent prohibition order on a periodical is permanent. It is possible to appeal against the order.
Appealing against a prohibition order
The Censorship of Publications Appeal Board operates in a similar fashion to the Censorship of Publications Board, except that its members only need a simple majority for a decision.
An appeal against the prohibition of a book may be made by the author, editor or publisher of the book or by any five members of the Oireachtas (the Seanad or the Dáil) who are acting jointly. The Appeal Board may affirm the order, revoke the order or vary the order so as to exclude a particular edition of the book from the order.
An appeal against the prohibition of a periodical may be made by the publisher of the periodical or by any five members of the Oireachtas acting jointly. The Appeal Board may revoke the order or may vary the order to allow for the sale and distribution of a particular issue or edition of the periodical.
Grounds for banning a books or periodicals in Ireland
Books are prohibited if the Censorship of Publications Board considers them to be indecent or obscene. Periodicals are prohibited if the Censorship of Publications Board considers them to be frequently or usually indecent or obscene. Both books and periodicals may be prohibited if the Board considers that they advocate abortion or ways of carrying out abortions. Periodicals may also be prohibited if the Board is of the opinion that they have given an unduly large proportion of space to matters relating to crime. In practice, however, publications are usually only reported to the Board for obscenity. The Board will measure the literary, scientific or historical merit of the publication. It will take note of its general tenor, the language in which it is written, its likely circulation and readers and anything else it feels is relevant. It may take into account any communication with the author, editor or publisher.
If a publication has been examined by the Censorship of Publications Board and a prohibition order is not at present in force against it, then the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 does not apply to it.
The Gardai may be issued with a search warrant if they suspect that prohibited books or periodicals are being kept anywhere for sale or distribution.
The Register of Prohibited Publications keeps a record of the publications that are currently prohibited and any variations on prohibition orders. You can consult the Register for free in the Censorship of Publications Office and the Register is occasionally published.
The Boards are both independent authorities and the Minister for Justice and Equality has no power over their decisions.
The Child Trafficking and Pornography (Amendment) Act 2004 has two purposes in relation to censorship of publications. It ensures that any person who sends or produces documents to a committee of the houses of the Oireachtas (which might include child pornography) does not run the risk of committing the criminal offence of distributing child pornography. This is necessary where someone is obliged to comply with a direction from a Dail or Seanad committee to either send or produce to the committee any specified documents in their possession.
Second, the 1998 Child Trafficking and Pornography Act also makes it an offence to possess, print, publish or show child pornography. However, it provides no exemption to members of the Oireachtas who might come into possession etc of child pornography as a consequence of carrying out their proper functions. The 2004 Act ensures that any member of the Oireachtas, civil servant or adviser who came into possession of child pornography, or distributed, printed, published or showed child pornography, while carrying out their legitimate functions in gathering evidence during an investigation into any matter relating to child pornography, or assisting in any such investigation, would not commit a criminal offence.
There is a fee of €6.35 to be paid by an author or publisher lodging an appeal against a prohibition order. This will be returned if the appeal is considered to be a serious appeal. In practice, every appeal fee is returned.
How to apply
Complaining about a book or periodical
To complain about a book or periodical, you must put your complaint to the Office of Censorship of Publications in writing, stating why you think the book or periodical should be prohibited and indicating passages (if any) in the text that you feel support your complaint. You must also send in a copy of the book or three recent issues of the periodical.
Appealing against a prohibition order
To appeal against a prohibition, you must be either the author, the publisher or one of five members of the Oireachtas acting together. You must make the appeal on the proper form, which is available from the Office of Censorship of Publications. You must send in six copies of a book, or as many copies as requested of a periodical, and the fee, as mentioned above.