Under the Irish Constitution, you have a right to freedom of expression. This is the right to freely express your convictions and opinions. However, Ireland also has censorship laws, which restrict freedom of expression in certain circumstances.
Books, films, magazines, newspapers, online content and other forms of mass communication may be restricted or banned if they are considered:
- Likely to incite hatred or violence
Magazines and newspapers may also be banned (prohibited) if they give too much space to matters relating to crime.
Censorship laws set out rules about standards. The law also regulates bodies that monitor and approve content that is distributed to the public.
You can find out more in our document on fundamental rights under the Irish Constitution.
Censorship of publications
The Censorship of Publications Board makes decisions on the censorship of publications. This is an independent voluntary board established by the Censorship of Publications Act 1929.
The Censorship of Publications Board is made up of 5 members who are appointed by the Minister for Justice.
Its role is to examine books and recently published periodicals (newspapers, magazines and journals) for sale in Ireland. It examines publications that have been referred by a customs or excise officer, or by a member of the public.
What happens if a publication is banned?
If the Censorship of Publications Board decides on a prohibition (a ban), it is illegal for that publication to be bought, sold or distributed in Ireland. The Board can ban the sale and distribution of books for a maximum of 12 years. It can ban periodicals for 3 months.
If a prohibition is passed, it begins as soon as it is announced in Iris Oifigúil (the official State gazette). Banned publications are also listed in the Register of Prohibited Publications.
A ban can be appealed to the Censorship of Publications Appeal Board. However, the only people who can appeal are the author, editor or publisher of the publication or any 5 members of the Oireachtas (the Seanad or the Dáil) who are acting jointly.
The Censorship of Publications Appeal Board may uphold or cancel the ban. It can also change the prohibition order to exclude a particular edition.
How is a ban enforced?
If the Gardaí suspect that prohibited books or periodicals are being kept for sale or distribution, they can get a search warrant. A person found in possession of banned materials may be fined or face jail.
How often are books banned?
Books are not banned very often. The last time a book was banned was in 2016, which was the first time since 1998. Well-known books that have been banned include The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien in 1960 and The Dark by John McGahern in 1965.
After the 2018 repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which provides for the legal termination of pregnancy, references to abortion were removed from the Censorship of Publications Act 1946. In 2019, the Department of Justice confirmed that several publications providing information about abortion were to be removed from the Register of Prohibited Publications.
Under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, it is an offence to possess, print, publish or show child pornography. However, if the Censorship Board examines a publication and does not ban it, then the publication is not viewed as unlawful under the child-protection pornography legislation.
Censorship of film, DVDs and video games
The Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO) is responsible for certifying all films, DVDs and videos intended for public distribution. This statutory body used to be called the Irish Censor’s Office.
The Censor’s Office and the Classification of Films Appeal Board was set up after the passing of the Censorship of Films Act 1923. The role of the Censor’s Office was expanded to include DVDs and videos after the passing of the Video Recordings Act 1989.
How are films certified?
A film can be certified as unfit for viewing because IFCO decides that:
- It is likely to cause harm to children
- It is indecent, obscene or blasphemous
- Viewing it might go against public morality
In addition to banning a film, IFCO may decide that sections of a film must be removed before it can be certified as suitable for viewing.
IFCO provides guidelines on an appropriate age group for films – and certifies films from G (general) to 18 (adult). A copy of the IFCO certificate must be shown for at least 10 seconds immediately before a film is shown. IFCO also views and approves advertising shown in a cinema to promote a film, to ensure it is appropriate for the certificate.
IFCO’s website has more information about film classification guidelines.
How are DVDs certified?
A DVD (or video) can be banned if IFCO decides that viewing it would:
- Be likely to cause people to commit crimes
- Be likely to stir up hatred against a specific group of people in the State or elsewhere
- Tend to deprave or corrupt, because it is obscene or indecent
It can also ban a DVD (or video) if it shows acts of gross violence or cruelty (including mutilation and torture) towards humans or animals. IFCO does not have to give a DVD or video the same classification as the feature film. IFCO’s website has more information about video and DVD classification guidelines.
How are video games certified?
IFCO works to ensure that video games that have been certified by the Pan European Games Information (PEGI) comply with the Irish Video Recordings Act. Although video games are exempt from classification under the law, the Director of Film Classification can ban a game if it is judged to be unfit for viewing.
How are online films and games certified?
Currently, there is no legislation on certifying online films and games. The classification of content on online streaming services (such as Netflix and Amazon Prime) is not IFCO’s responsibility. However, some on-demand services carry IFCO’s age classifications voluntarily.
Censorship of the internet
Currently, Ireland has no specific laws covering internet censorship. Online and social media companies are not subject to regulation by the State for content that is shared on their platforms.
However, there are some legal restrictions that must be followed. These include:
- The EU Directive 2000/31 on electronic commerce requires internet service providers (ISPs) and online platforms to act fast and efficiently once they become aware of illegal content. S.I. No. 68/2003 gives effect to the Directive in Ireland.
- ISPs are required to remove content that is illegal under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. The Act also requires website owners to ensure that contributors (for example, to blogs or chat rooms) agree to terms and conditions before being allowed to post comments or material.
- The European Union (Copyright and Related Rights Regulations) became law in 2012. It aims to tackle illegal downloading of copyrighted material, such as films from file-sharing websites.
- The EU Directive 2019/790 (specifically Article 17 of the Directive) gives legal protection to the copyright holders of digital content (for example, creators of online videos, music and articles). S.I. No. 567/2021 gives effect to the Directive in Ireland.
ISPs and online platforms regulate themselves
Internet service providers (ISPs) operating in Ireland (such as Eir, Vodafone, and Virgin Media) have a system of self-regulation. It has been agreed and overseen by the Department of Justice and Equality since 1998. The Internet Service Providers’ Association of Ireland (ISPAI) is the representative body for ISPs and manages a Code of Practice and Ethics.
The ISPAI also runs the anonymous reporting service: Hotline.ie. Members must have the ISPAI and Hotline.ie logos on their websites to show their commitment to responsible internet business practices and online child protection.
Online platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) often have their own policies and community standards to regulate and prevent illegal content such as hate speech, promotion of terrorism, bullying and harassment, and violent or graphic content. Platform users who do not follow community standards risk being penalised (for example, your account could be closed).
New Online Safety Act
In January 2020, the Government published a new Online Safety Bill. The legislation aims to improve online safety for children. It proposes to appoint an Online Safety Commissioner (OSC) with regulation and enforcement powers to deal with disputes.
You can learn more about online safety.
EU regulation of harmful or illegal online content
Measures to tackle illegal content online at EU level include:
- Combating sexual abuse of children – It is illegal to access child sexual abuse material online under the Directive on combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The EU works with governments, technology companies and organisations worldwide through the WEPROTECT Global Alliance.
- Eliminating terrorist content – Since 2015, EU law has been strengthened to criminalise online incitement, promotion or glorification of terrorism. The EU Internet Forum was set up in 2015 to stop the misuse of the internet by international terrorist organisations, working together with the internet industry to remove illegal content. Ireland is a member of the forum.
- Fighting racist or hate speech – In 2016, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft committed to the Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online. Instagram, Snapchat and others joined in 2018. Under the Code, platforms have committed to reviewing illegal content within 24 hours of it being reported, and removing it if necessary. The Code is monitored by the European Commission.
The European Commission website has more information on countering illegal content online.
How to make a complaint
The regulatory body or agency you should complain to, depends on whether your complaint relates to:
- A publication
- A film, DVD or video
- Online content
How to complain about a publication
You can complain to the Office of Censorship Publications in writing, stating why you think a publication should be banned.
You must provide details of the passages (if any) in the text that you feel support your complaint and send in a copy of the book or three recent issues of the periodical.
How to complain about a film, DVD or video
You can make a complaint to the Gardaí about offences under the Censorship of Films Act and the Video Recording Act. These include allowing entry to a film to someone under the classified age and the importation, possession or supply of banned or wrongly certified films, DVDs or videos.
Alternatively, you can make a complaint about film and DVD classifications directly to IFCO.
If you are not satisfied with IFCO’s handling of your complaint, you can then contact the relevant Ombudsman. For complaints regarding children, contact the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. For all other complaints, contact the Office of the Ombudsman.
How to complain about online content
If you see illegal content online, you can report it to:
- Your local Garda station
- The anonymous reporting service: Hotline.ie
- The relevant online platform, using their complaints procedures.