The Committee on Evil Literature isn’t an unholy alliance of Iago, Moriarty, and Dracula out to illiter-ate the Superfriends in a very special episode about reading. It was a real government body whose effects are still being felt today.
Ireland has a history of being fertile soil for new writers, and then disgusting them until they have to leave. Two ways that Ireland’s historical attitude to writers has been a barrel of shit. Standard practice is restricting writers until they’re too safely dead to affect the status quo, then celebrating their corpses for tourism money. It’s gotten so bad that a Samuel Beckett-class Irish Navy vessel is being named the James Joyce. Which would seem like a tone-deaf attempt to hijack their names, until you realize that a naval vessel’s function is to leave Irish shores as often possible. and that’s a mission both writers heartily endorsed.
Irish censorship thinks printing peaked early with the Gutenberg bible. Censorship is used like a television remote, getting rid of anything they don’t like the look of, or might not like, or simply think is too loud or can’t be bothered with. We gained our independence in 1916 and didn’t make it a decade before using our newfound freedom to get rid of all this dangerous freedom.
The Censorship of Publications Board was created by the Committee on Evil Literature. Which is about half a step from the Committee Of I’ll Get The Petrol And Matches. The Committee was formed to investigate whether there were problems with immoral publications, and was the most efficient government body in history. They’d made up their mind before getting to the “Name” section on the committee registration form.
The resulting Censorship of Publications Board started with a professor of English literature, two members of parliament, a protestant priest and a catholic priest i.e two priests with very slightly different accents. And it only took three votes to ban a book. Which meant even mentioning the church was effectively an immediate ban, and as we all know, making sure nobody could criticize the activities of the church has just worked out bloody fantastically for generations of Irish people.
The bans were instantaneous. You could only appeal after the fact, giving the board the tower to starve writers into submission, or rather prevent them from even trying by scaring publishers away from anything that might end up as an expensively wasted effort.
The other big “no-no” was sexual health. A while back the government proudly announced that there were no longer any books banned for obscenity, which is technically true — the worst kind of true — because in Irish eyes, “obscenity” and “obscenity and mentioning anything to do with abortion” are legally distinct categories. And there are still a sheaf of books banned under the latter.
Those bans are so Irish: we’ll ban love, sex, and happiness if they even mentions something we don’t like. These books are still banned even though it became legal to distribute printed matter relating to abortion in 1992, and bans are meant to expire after 12 years. They specifically changed the law to make these bans endless. That’s the Irish attitude: even when something’s already illegal, they’ll take the time to make double-illegal, extra-illegal, effectively infinitely illegal, so illegal that it’s still illegal even after the original laws no longer apply. But they won’t take the time to fix it, because leaving things permanently screwed up by past mistakes is the Irish way.
That’s why ours is a country with an active anti-blasphemy law. In 2009 the Oireachtas noticed that embarrassing old blasphemy laws were still on the books, so they updated them into embarrassing new blasphemy laws. You can be fined €25,000 for “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter”, to which the only possible response is: Jesus Christ that’s embarrassing. Jesus Christ, personally, I am addressing you here on our global communication system to tell you that you are either stupid for letting this happen or stupid for agreeing with it. Or you don’t exist. Those are the only logical options.
Some claimed that the ban was a constitutional necessity — as if that was less problematic — but if it’s only there to dot constitution’s i’s, why is there a five figure fine attached? Why isn’t a single cent? Unenforced laws aren’t the same as no laws. Unenforced laws are unused weapons, like a loaded gun hanging over the fireplace. It changes the tone of every discussion in that room. That bit of backwards voodoo is going to sit gathering dust until they want to shut a website down, and then they’re going to bundle it in with everything else they can think of expensively terrorize somebody into shutting up.
Ours is a country where the national broadcaster paid money to apologize to the legal-mercenary hate group. RTÉ shoveled taxpayer money to the Iona Institute — whose sole function is preventing people from gaining equal rights — in a groveling apology for someone else calling them homophobic. A national broadcaster versus a lobbying group should be a battle for civil rights, not an immediate surrender. RTÉ made it humiliatingly clear that they had to choose between cutting a story or offending anyone who even had a lawyer’s phone number, they’d cut that story with their own fingernails in case someone sued before they found scissors.
That’s how you end up with the UN reminding an entire country that we’re still in multiple violation international human rights law. In 2014. And that’s why we need to reform the Committee on Evil Literature! When sexual health is accidentally infinitely banned, when divine spirits have more legal rights than pregnant women, and when our national broadcaster funds hate groups instead of fighting them, we need our own agency. Distribute more information! Say more things! Print and write and talk and share all the things they’d rather we kept quiet about. If I was rich the Committee on Evil Literation would be a publishing house with the coolest business cards of all time. As it is, we’ve got an internet. And I address you as fellow committee members when I say: we need to use it.
Further discussion of what you’re allowed to see: