Shatter’s steamy novel only book referred to censors in five years

‘Amazing Detective Stories’ and ‘Daring Romances’ among 274 still-banned publications

 Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times


Minister for Justice Alan Shatter’s novel Laura is the only publication to be referred to the Censorship of Publications Board in the last five years the Dáil has been told.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins called for the repeal of the board and said it was an “outdated relic from a different era”. It had lingered while time and the internet had passed it by, he said.

Introducing his Censorship of Publications Board Repeal Bill, he said e-books broadened the cultural wealth of the country but they were also “plumbing to the depths of bad taste. After all even Fifty Shades of Grey sold almost 60,000 copies in two months after its release here.”

The Government however has formally rejected the Bill. Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said repealing the board and the appeal board was a “sensible and overdue reform” but it was more complex and technical than the legislation took account of.

A complaint had been made under the existing legislation and this had to be dealt with, he said in reference to Mr Shatter’s novel.

Speaking on behalf of Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan, he said: “Repealing part of the Acts while leaving the remainder in place should not be done without giving due consideration to the effects which this would have on the entire body of legislation.”

A temporary board is expected to be established to deal with the bestseller.

Since 2000, eight books have been referred to the board and none banned, while one magazine was banned in 2003 out of 34 periodicals the board considered.

Mr Collins said currently there are 274 books and magazines banned in Ireland. They include “Amazing Detective Stories” and “Daring Romances”, which were deemed obscene in the 1950s. “They would not even merit a raised eyebrow on Fair City now,” he added.

The term of office of the last board ended in 2011 and there have been no new appointees. “It strikes a lonely figure amongst the Government’s approach of cronyism to board appointments. Perversely the board now gives added publicity to books being referred to it, while in practice it is essentially bypassed by the internet.”

He said “the board was long since departed before Minister Shatter’s novel made the front pages”.

Its continued existence “is now having the direct opposite effect that its creators had hoped for. Referring a book to the board has the counterproductive impact of widely publicising a book which is essentially available through other routes. After it was referred to the board Laura was republished with high demand.”

He said the “story of censorship in Ireland jars with our proud sense of a great literary tradition on this island”. He pointed to comments by British poet Robert Graves that the Irish board was “the fiercest literary censorship this side of the Iron Curtain”. He added: “Our own writers have wilted under the harsh glare of the literary fireman.”

He said the late John McGahern reflected with amusement on the board before discovering the chilling effect it had on his life when he lost his job as a teacher.

The Fianna Fáil TD quoted from the writer’s memoir: “We had looked on the Censorship Board as a joke. Most banned books, like most books published, weren’t worth reading and those that were could easily be found.”

However upon finding his own works banned he “found it childish and unpleasant, and I was a little ashamed that our own independent country was making a fool of itself yet again…. I refused to take part in any protest on the grounds that it would do the whole sorry business too much honour.”

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