Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Censorship in the Two Irelands 1922-1939 by Peter Martin (foreword by Diarmaid Ferriter), Irish Academic Press, 0 7165 2829 0, £18.50 pbk
THIS, SAYS the publishers, is the first study of censorship in both parts of Ireland. It is true that there have been some works on aspects of censorship and propaganda but certainly as a comparative study between the two partitioned areas, this is, indeed, a first.
I was slightly nervous when I noticed that the author had ignored the ground breaking study by Liz Curtis - Ireland; The Propaganda War (1985) and the peripheral but essential details that emerged in Patrick Magee's study Gangsters or Guerrillas (2001) but these deal with just part of the whole picture as presented here.
It is a work that could be hard for a general reader; it's one that I would call academic to a fault. But it is full of first class information showing that both parts of Ireland allowed only partial freedom of expression and that begrudgingly.
I would say that the book is slightly easy on the Unionist regime and one has to recall that Johannes Vorster, when minister of justice in the South African government, said in 1963 that he would give up all the apartheid legislation in South Africa for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act.
The author argues that both parts of Ireland used censorship to reinforce what governments considered their differing identities - therefore suppressing political dissent in the six counties and, in the words of the author, "cheapening of cultural debate in the south". This refers to the 'banned list' of books, the subtle forcing of some of its most profound writers and thinkers to seek freedom elsewhere in Europe - such as John McGahern.
I was intrigued with the analysis of the 1937 constitution and here the author draws some very profound points showing it was at this point there came substantial changes in the freedom of expression and the rights granted to the citizen were heavily qualified. Civil liberties were only granted "subject to public order and morality". Whose morality?
Freedom of speech was also granted with the limitation that the state ensure that such freedom did not undermine public order or morality of the authority of the state and such utterance or publication was punishable by law.
Even with my caveats, this is a fascinating book and well worth having as an essential reference work in this area.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis