Dáil Éireann - Volume 420 - 21 May, 1992

Adjournment Debate. - Non-Distribution of Newspaper.

[157] Mr. Taylor: On 1 May 1992 the Taoiseach wrote to the Labour Party Whip——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy. Do you propose to share your time?

Mr. Taylor: Yes, I shall give one minute of my time to Deputy De Rossa.

On 1 May 1992 the Taoiseach wrote to the Labour Party Whip concerning the Labour Party Bill seeking to establish the right to travel and the right to information. In the Taoiseach's letter he accepted the general thrust of the Labour Party proposition and specifically gave this undertaking, “that the Government will not take any action which would offend against the spirit of the consensus which exists on the issues in question”.

Today's action, the effective banning of a newspaper of world renown, is in clear breach of that consensus. It is important for the House, and for every citizen, to know clearly where the Government stand on this issue. Are the Government in favour of — as they constantly say — and support the right of Irish women to travel freely between EC member states and to have information on services that are legally available in those states, or do they condone the kind of censorship we witnessed today? The issue is simple and clear: where do the Government stand in relation to those fundamental questions?

I have no doubt that the Minister will say that the matter in question was a voluntary restriction by Easons. Easons hold a near monopoly on the distribution of newspapers and they are aided and abetted by the Government's failure to clarify their position on the issues of the right to travel and the right to information. The Government's failure in that regard is the clear contributor to the cause of the incredible happening today at Dublin Airport, which must surely make this country look ridiculous in the eyes of Europe.

It is most worrying that this bizarre development shows the ability of one private company in this State to act as [158] the moral censor of the Irish people. Two or three directors of that company have taken upon themselves the role of censor. We now want to hear the Government's response to the issue.

There is a sort of assumption on this issue in all the comments made that it is unlawful here at this time to give information regarding services available in other EC member states, including the service of abortion, which has been held to be lawful in other EC countries. The assumption that it is unlawful is not quite correct and it is a clear over-simplification to say so.

The European Court in Luxembourg gave a judgment in this regard on 4 October 1991 in the matter of SPUC v. Stephen Grogan and Others. That court appears to have held that it is certainly unlawful for students to disseminate information but it clearly made an exclusion in that the ban was because the clinics in question had no involvement in the distribution of the information. Today's case concerned a purported dissemination by the clinics and, under the terms of that European judgment, there is clearly a very strong argument to show that it is perfectly lawful.

Here we have the case of a private company purporting to act as censor and to ban an activity that may very well be — and I believe is — lawful here at this moment.

The Government cannot escape by saying that Easons were responsible for this. It is the cloud that the Government have thrown over the affair, their failure to clarify exactly what they propose on the issues of travel and information, that has encouraged Easons and will encourage others to take similar action. The Government must clarify their position.

Proinsias De Rossa: I thank Deputy Taylor for sharing his time with me, time which is very scarce.

The withholding of 2,000 copies of today's issue of The Guardian newspaper, which contains an advertisement for the Marie Stopes Clinic is the latest ludicrous and ridiculous consequence of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The action of treating one of the world's most respected newspapers [159] in the same way as some sort of smutty, pornographic magazine will be greeted with incredulity in virtually every democratic state.

Mrs. Barnes: And the clinics.

Proinsias De Rossa: Indeed. The newspaper has been treated in that way because it carries an advertisement from the Marie Stopes Clinic, which I should like to quote:

Naturally, for all this care we have to ask a fee. Marie Stopes is, after all, a private clinic.

But we're also a charity so we try to keep our costs as low as possible. What money we do make goes back into our clinics and into family planning and maternal health projects in over twenty developing countries around the world.

If you would like to talk to a Marie Stopes counsellor, call one of the numbers below.

The advertisement then gives telephone numbers for central London, 071.388.4843; for north London, 081.208.0282; and for west London, south London, Reading, Leeds and Manchester.

I ask how that kind of information could possibly be damaging to either the men or women of this country. I appeal to the Minister to move without delay to change the law here if that is what is required so that we can be treated as adults and not as children in a kindergarten, where we are protected by individuals — whether they be private individuals or members of the State, Judiciary or the Garda Síochána. Let us, please, be treated as adults.

Mrs. Barnes: And citizens.

Mr. N. Treacy: We have been informed by the Garda authorities that they were made aware of the intended importation of 2,000 copies of The Guardian newspaper containing the material that it did by media reports and by a number of phone calls of complaint from the public. I can confirm that gardaí [160] were present during the unloading of the newspapers in question merely as observers and took no action whatsoever in the matter.

The decision not to distribute or place for sale the newspaper in question was taken by the importers concerned, without reference to the Garda Síochána. The Garda authorities informed me that the importers decided to take all copies of the newspaper, which arrived this morning at 1.50 a.m., to their depot at Sean Mac-Dermott Street, where, it is understood, they were destroyed.

Mrs. Barnes: My God.

Mr. Gilmore: This is like Nazi Germany.

Mrs. Barnes: This is outrageous.

Mr. N. Treacy: As this was a private decision by a private company it would be inappropriate for me to make any statement on this matter. I merely want to emphasise that the Garda Síochána had no input into that decision, which was confirmed by a representative of the company in question during a radio interview at lunchtime today.

As recently as Tuesday, 12 May last, the Tánaiste dealt at length in this House with the Government's approach to the issues of rights to travel and to information. There is nothing further which I can usefully add at this stage.

Proinsias De Rossa: How many more newspapers will be burned?

Mr. N. Treacy: I assure the Deputy that I admire his contribution to observing the laws of the land.