So how do Ireland deal with R18 hardcore films? As far as I know they are still banned yet they are clearly on sale yet they seem
to be openly on sale in sex shops.
Ireland's film censors were once notoriously severe on matters sexual and religious. But the latest incumbent, John Kelleher, says his role is to advise and inform, not to cut out good wholesome shagging
The current censor, says that historically censors arrogantly assumed they knew what was best. They banned or mutilated movies that now appear innocent, including many that have gone on to achieve classic status.
As with the censorship of books, no allowances were made for artistic quality: filth was filth. Just as writers such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and John McGahern had their work banned, so Irish audiences were deprived of the chance to see cinematic
artworks by directors such as Eisenstein and Fellini.
The first 50 years were extraordinarily repressive, admits Kelleher: It was paternalist. You had a new state where the power of the church was extremely strong and the politicians were nervous.
But everything, it seems, is different now. Literary censorship has all but vanished. Although the office of film censor is still maintained by the state — indeed, it has expanded in recent years to deal with videos and DVDs — it is no longer in the banning
business. Under Kelleher, the office has rebranded itself as a consumer service. Its role is to determine what movies are fit for adult viewing and which should come with a warning: A guide dog rather than a watchdog,
Yet something of the old paternalism remains. The urge to exercise control is wired into the censor's DNA. It is far from clear whether one incumbent such as Kelleher, with his liberal instincts, can alter that.
The background of successive film censors tells its own story. The early ones were political appointees with no real knowledge of cinema. This began to change from the 1960s, when Dermot Breen and the television personality Frank Hall had at least some
connection to the film business. But Kelleher and his predecessor, Sheamus Smith, were the first censors to have come from a film-making background.
Smith, censor from 1986 to 2003, initiated a more liberal regime. He banned some films, such as Bad Lieutenant. His other decisions could appear arbitrary, even contradictory. He lifted the ban on Monty Python's Life of Brian, only to ban other films by
Terry Jones, including Monty Python's Meaning of Life and the sex comedy Personal Services.
In the 1980s and 1990s, however, sexual content alone was rarely enough to get a film banned. Smith began to follow the Scandinavian model, where violence was seen as potentially more harmful. But some of the old reflexes lingered on: a mixture of sexuality
and religion, as seen in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Kelleher, in contrast, does not see himself as being in the business of banning films. It is a weapon he rarely deploys, and so far never against cinema releases, only against the uglier end of the video/DVD trade.
The question of where pornography begins is a subjective one and the definition shifts accordingly. Sixty years ago, Casablanca was seen as pornographic. But Kelleher passed the film 9 Songs for adult viewing, despite its extreme sexual explicitness.
This has led to an odd phenomenon in Ireland, with the film censor drawing flak for being unduly lenient. Yet, he insists, he wants to listen to the public. He believes strongly in the virtues of market research, communication and focus groups. Part of
his vision for the office of film censor, a name he dislikes and hopes to have changed to something more user-friendly such as film classifier, is openness and transparency.
But the office retains powers that, in modern Ireland, are disturbing. These include control over posters and ancillary materials, as well as the power to give a film a special imprimatur, as happened in 1996 with Michael Collins, because it is deemed
The fact these powers are almost never used does not dilute their incongruity in a free society. The old Ireland was proud of its restrictive regime: it felt it was doing its duty to God and to the people. In contrast, contemporary Ireland often seems
proud of having swung the other way.
It is hard to deny that the classification system performs a useful service, but the censor's office, with all its historical baggage, is not necessarily the ideal provider of that service.
Kelleher has certainly transformed the office. The biggest change is a recognition that people who are 18 are adults, they should be able to make up their own minds. Our role would be to advise — a consumer guide.
If we are really so grown-up, though, maybe it's time to try living without any film censor; there are other ways of enforcing the restrictions that a sane society needs. Perhaps it is time to make those decisions for ourselves, without needing a government
watchdog, or even a guide dog.