On the face of it, there’s nothing to dislike about the decision by the Censorship of Publications Board to ban a book entitled The Raped Little Runaway.
Who could possibly oppose the banning of anything so vile?
Well, hold on a second. That question carries so many hidden implications that we need to dig deep in order to find the answer and we need to start by asking why we should ban anything, especially these days when everything is available on the internet anyway.
But more pertinently, who is to say what material should be suppressed? Who should we appoint to protect us from indecent or obscene material and in what way are these people better qualified than other adults to make such judgements?
The current board is composed as follows:
Shane McCarthy, a solicitor in County Cork.
Noëlle O’Connor. Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Studies. Course Director for the B.A. (Hons.) in Business Studies with Event Management Programme in Limerick Institute of Technology.
Sinéad Prunty. Barrister and law lecturer.
Philip Moynihan. Former Chief Superintendent in an Garda Síochána.
Georgina Byrne. South Dublin County Librarian.
Well and good. All of these people seem to be fine, upstanding citizens, but I still have one question.
In what sense are any of these people better equipped than I am to judge what is suitable reading material for me as a mature adult?
In what sense will I, as a mature adult, not be able to see that The Raped Little Runaway is a vile piece of work and reject it accordingly?
In what sense do I, as a mature adult, need a censorship board of people who are no better qualified than I am to tell me what I can and cannot read?
Yes, of course we all feel repelled by publications such as the one described, but it’s hard to see how censorship is the answer. After all, it isn’t so long ago in Ireland when most of the world’s greatest authors were banned by the very same censorship board, turning this country into the cultural equivalent of Enver Hoxha’s Albania. That’s the danger when you appoint five arbitrary individuals to decide what their fellow citizens may or may not read.
James Joyce, Brendan Behan, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene and F Scott Fitzgerald have all been banned by the censorship board and even today if you were found in possession of a banned publication, True Detective for example, you would be liable to a fine of €63.50. If anyone could be bothered to charge you, that is.
Disgust and revulsion are in the eye of the beholder, and the beholding eye of Ireland has shifted its focus considerably since the days when Brendan Behan proudly declared himself the Leader of the Banned. We are no longer the paternalistic society founded by the wealthy professional Catholic elite who put through the 1921 revolution. We no longer take our cues from priests or the Legion of Mary and we no longer pass our laws according to the diktats of the conservative rump, as last year’s Marriage Equality referendum proclaimed to the world.
We are adults, and as adults we are perfectly capable of judging for ourselves what to read and what not to read.
The current members of our censorship board seem to be perfectly rational, balanced, trustworthy individuals, even if they are underworked. The last time they were called together was when they considered a complaint about Alan Shatter’s dreadful but hardly pornographic novel, Laura. But it’s telling that they had to convene at all just because some crank took issue with the written word.
Sadly for the reading public, Shatter’s novel is still at large. Thankfully for literary freedom, it can still be purchased in the shops.
Do we really need five people imposing their personal views on us when we’re well able to form our own opinions? It’s easy to be smug these days, but institutions live on unless they’re actively abolished and who’s to say that a censorship board of the future might not choose to ban thousands of books again, just as they did in our not-so-glorious past?
It isn’t fantasy. They did it already and those antediluvian attitudes are still here in the form of the Iona Institute, still in denial and still bemoaning the democratic decision of the Irish people to legalise same-sex marriage.
Imagine if these people somehow got a stranglehold on the censorship board.
For every revolting paedophile who’ll never get his book onto a shelf, there are a hundred Hemingways, Joyces, Edna O’Briens, Steinbecks, Behans all of whom cast a light into the dark oppressive shadows of Ionaland.
Let us never go back to those days. The politicians are agreed – unusually for them – that the censorship board is an anachronism that needs to be abolished. Let’s knock it on the head now and let’s agree that the Irish people are grown adults perfectly capable of judging for themselves what’s fit to read without the help of five random people who are no better qualified than anyone else.