Censorship Board bans first book in 18 years

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.

It’s revolting.

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.





11 thoughts on “Censorship Board bans first book in 18 years

  1. Mr Bock,Sir,

    Do you not think that basic standards of decency must be maintained at least in a nominal way even if things like the internet tend to negate the effort? I might point out here,that the internet does not entirely defeat the purpose of book banning. It is effective although maybe not to the extent that it might have been in pre-internet days.

    A line just has to be drawn with everything in life. If not, then every excess that you could name will be the result. Whole civilizations in the past have fallen because of this principal.

    There is little point in complaining of paedophilism and the abuse of children if we wilfully expose them to spiritual, moral and psychological harm of this nature.

    Yes, we need those five people or preferably more, to at least maintain a standard if nothing else and the population does need direction and protection in what is allowed to circulate amongst it. It is a very difficult issue at the present time. I might add here that some countries do manage to exert some control of the net.

    (Aside, you and I would objectively not make suitable censors ourselves. Without offering offence to you, I think that you would be far too liberal, allowing all sorts of things in the name of tolerance while I would be at the other extreme, ordering book burning carnivals in Dublin’s Smithfield if I was let!)

  2. I didn’t know that there are still bans on books, at least in the western world.

    I’ve never heard of the book in question, other than that it is about child rape, after googleing it. So I don’t know if it is despicable content and/or crap writing or just not suitable for delicate academics.

    Either way, I don’t condone any ban on books. Readers read and judge for themselves. Full stop. Anything else is just patronising.

    Banning books just promotes them. Didn’t I read Lady Chatterly’s Lover as a teenager looking for the juicy bits, because the book was hard to get (or tried to be banned by the Catholic Church in Germany – without success). Don’t ask how I’ve got my hands on it. It’s like getting dope… But the book was boring and the juicy bits were even for my teenage hunger too tame. I didn’t even finish it.

    And don’t mention the war, ehm, the ban of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in Germany. The ban was lifted recently – and nobody cared. Who wants to read a bulk of incoherent ramblings nobody right wing with limited brains can follow? Not even people with advanced brains, apart from academics? Readers read good stuff and crap stuff. The latter is usually forgotten. So why bother to ban it? Reading people can distinguish.

    By the way, did you read the concerning book? I didn’t find any review or content on the net, only articles on the ban. What actually is it about the “child rape” in this book? Is it disgustingly lusty or is it accusing?

    I’ve read Edna O’Brien’s recent book, “The little red chairs”. There is a very disturbing and violent scene against a pregnant woman in it. Especially because she was pregnant. A friend of mine had to stop reading the book at this stage. She missed the outcome, not an uplifting one, but a hopeful and at the same time resignated one. Like life as such. O’Brien is simply brilliant and fearless. But then she is an outstanding and intelligent writer.

    But she was banned at some time and is still a controversal figure at her home town – I know, because I live not far away from there. The old grudge and resentment is simply bewildering.

    As a German I’m historically ingrained against any banning (or burning) books.

  3. Hmmm, I agree ‘The Raped Little Runaway’ sounds DISGUSTING, but I still almost completely disagree with the idea of a censorship board, at least for books. If you don’t want children reading(or playing) stuff that’s not suitable, don’t expose them to it. Simple. as. that.

  4. Robert, Sir,

    The ONLY solution to protecting children from evil literature is non-availability. It is an urgent situation and repressive measures are justified.

    Adults also need to be protected whether they think so or not. Censorship boards are needed composed of men and women who are not afraid to make unpopular decisions and who will protect the morality of the nation. If people can be fined or even imprisoned for the unauthorised possession of prohibited drugs then I see no reason why the same rule cannot be applied to prohibited literature.

    Now, I know that I sound very totalitarian with such views but a line has to be drawn somewhere.

    Carry,Madam, greeting,

    Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is not a “bulk of incoherent ramblings”. It is an intelligent rational document that is easy to follow for almost anyone. THAT IS WHAT MAKES THIS MURDEROUS RHETORIC SO DANGEROUS that it is not the rantings and ravings of a madman. All that is needed is one able leader and charismatic orator, just like
    “The Corporal” himself again to re-implement the contents. Because of its historical significance banning may not be easy but I do think that it should be restricted.

    It is my own personal opinion that much of the evil in the world today owes its origin to the unbridled commercial production of evil literature, principally the promotion of just about every perverted sexual licence that you could name.

    Sir,Madam, I’m at it again!! Ah well…… All good wishes, Jehanne.

  5. Thank goodness the Taliban of Ireland are alive and well in the person of Ebenezer Joan, ever vigilant to protect us from DANGEROUS IDEAS.
    11. Thou shalt not think.

  6. Jose Sallamanca,Sir, (I assume,Sir),
    I wondered if someone would arrive to imply that I am a totalitarian.

    A line needs to be drawn somewhere and somebody needs to do it. Publishing all sorts of excesses for profit such as violence, inordinate sex, blasphemy and so on as popular entertainment is not freedom but an abuse.

    Reflect on the matter, Jose.

    Best wishes, Jeanne.

  7. The last book it banned was ‘The Base Guide to London,’ in 1998. The book explored “the seedy side” of the English capital and advertised the locations of “places of ill-repute.”

  8. Ebenezer Joan,
    As it happens, I agree that a line needs to be drawn but like Bock, I also believe that I and other adults are perfectly capable of drawing that line for ourselves. I do not require my morality to be “protected,” by anybody as I have my own reasonable standards and decide my own limitations to all of the influences I encounter.
    If we are mature thinking adults, we do not need a Nanny. We need to assume the authority to decide for ourselves and then take the responsibility for the decisions we make, both for ourselves and our dependents.
    Ban the act of banning I say!

  9. Mr. John Mallon, Sir,

    Drawing the line for ourselves individually is effectively not drawing the line at all.

    I am afraid that we do need a nanny —– with a big stick!

    May I ask,Sir, should there be no laws to prohibit pornography? Should there be no laws to prohibit handbooks for terrorists? Should there be no laws to prohibit books fostering violent racism? The list could go on and on.

    Don’t tell me that children don’t get their hands on these things. They do. In my view, letting children come into possession of evil literature is criminal neglect and the only solution to it is the same as for narcotics or weapons —— non-availability and legislation.

  10. “Drawing the line for ourselves individually is effectively not drawing the line at all.”

    Why not? Drawing a line is drawing a line. Individually or not. I don’t read badly written books and don’t watch crap films. End of. I can judge for myself.

    “I am afraid that we do need a nanny —– with a big stick!”

    I’m trying to picture that. I’m trying to picture your need for a nanny with a big stick. I’m drawing a line here, actually …

    “Don’t tell me that children don’t get their hands on these things. ”

    They might, but so what? When I was a child I didn’t understand anything what adults were so obsessed about. I prefered Enid Blyton, Astrid Lindgren and Erich Kästner. Even as an early teen I found it gross when people in TV-shows kissed! Trust kids. According to Piaget they follow their own development if you let them.

    ” …evil literature is criminal neglect and the only solution to it is the same as for narcotics or weapons —— non-availability and legislation.”

    What is evil literature? And what has literature to do with narcotics and weapons? Ideas?

    At school I found the bible pretty evil with all the killing, torture and ignorance and the general lack of compassion, not to mention the treatment of women as just breeding cows. Following your opinion it should not be available “by legislation”, at least not for children.
    You agree?

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