Tánaiste Micheál Martin has strongly condemned what he described as “vigilantism” by protesters who tore up LGBTQ+ books in Cork City Library and disrupted a family reading event in Kerry as part of Kingdom Pride Week.
Mr Martin was unequivocal in his condemnation of those who entered libraries in Cork and Kerry to protest against what they alleged in Cork was the provision of unsuitable LGBTQ+ literature for young adults, and in Kerry “the reading of immoral filth to children”.
Mr Martin said the tearing up of books, as happened when agitators in Cork destroyed Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay, aimed at young adults, marked a return to the dark days of censorship which spanned much of the 20th century in Ireland.
“It [tearing up of books] is outrageous. We have to stop such vigilantism. We had that before. Joyce and Ulysses. The great novels were banned. We put that era way behind us. We have to trust parents. Libraries are an oasis for society and the community – they are lovely places, beautiful places.
“I despair and I am dismayed that people would go into a library, upset the peace and tranquillity that people enjoy in a library, and the study and the reading that people do, by violently taking books off a shelf and destroying property,” said Mr Martin, speaking in Mallow.
Last Friday, more than 500 people marched in Cork in solidarity with staff at Cork City Libraries, where they heard Richy Carrothers of the Fórsa trade union calling for a more robust policing response from gardaí to such incidents. Mr Martin said tearing up a book was a criminal act that merited prosecution.
“It is the destruction of property... I think policing has to be a factor now. This is the destruction of property in the full glare of people. Sorry, it is just not on, and I am very angry about it and annoyed about it – I think it has to be very strongly resisted. It is a form of vigilantism which has to stop,” he said.
A former teacher, Mr Martin said that reading was “one of the greater tools available to opening up the world for people”. He said libraries were sanctuaries of reading, essential to the healthy functioning of democracy.
Mr Martin said protesters should trust parents to decide what is suitable material for their children to read or experience, and urged them to desist from protests causing upset to both library staff and library users.
“As a young person, I remember reading [Seán] Ó’Faoláin and [Frank] O’Connor and how they went through periods of censorship – there can be no toleration of that any more in modern Ireland. I would say to people to stop it and to allow the vast majority of the Irish people to get on with what we do normally.”
Earlier this week, Cork City Council unanimously passed a motion of support for library staff, condemning the small minority who have repeatedly targeted the Grand Parade library over its stocking of Juno Dawson’s book.
Councillors from all political parties, as well as Independents, unanimously backed a motion proposed by Labour’s John Maher condemning what he described as “the vigilantism” of those who have subjected staff in the Central Library on Grand Parade to “bullying and harassment”.
Cork city librarian David O’Brien, who told the meeting he had been called “a paedophile” on social media by agitators, moved to reassure councillors that management was not ignoring the problem and had already carried out a number of risk assessments for staff.
This had led to a decision in March to close the library for the first time in 130 years as management had feared protesters would rush the library at a time when two rival rallies were held on the Grand Parade. He said it was the correct decision, as no one had known what might happen.
Library management had taken an approach where “we are trying to dampen down the flames, because the more fuel you give to this stuff, the more it goes bananas”, but after talks with Cork City Hall, a process was now in place that would lead to a procedure to deal with the issue, he said.