By Kaitlyn Chant

The country of Ireland has come a long way from its tumultuous beginnings. Ireland went from being ruled by everyone from the Celtics to the Vikings to the British to finally declaring its independence in 1921 and becoming a Republic in 1948. The Irish Constitution grants citizens the right to “express freely their convictions and opinions” but like everywhere else there are exceptions. Ireland is ranked, according to, as being “free” and under civil liberties and political rights, Ireland is ranked with a one; one being the freest while seven is the most restrictive. As with every country, there are things that can be improved in regards to free speech and free press issues but as of right now Ireland is one of the highest-ranking countries for protecting human rights.

On the continent of Europe, Ireland is an island off the west coast of the United Kingdom and is surround by two bodies of salt water: the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea (Country Watch). The northern-most section of Ireland is actually considered part of the United Kingdom but the rest of the island is a Republic and uses parliamentary system.  (Country Watch) Ireland has a president and a prime minister but says that, “ the president of Ireland [is]… head of state [while]… the Taoiseach (prime minister) … is the head of the government.”  Ireland’s total area is 70,280 km2 and it has a population of 4,618,507 people (Country Watch). Ireland is know around the world for its myths, stories and traditions that come from the many different people that have lived there and also from the land itself  (Country Watch)            .

Ireland has an extremely long and colorful history that has shaped Ireland to what it is today. In 432 C.E., St. Patrick came to Ireland to change the people’s beliefs from Celtic pagan worship to Christianity (Country Watch). He was very successful because today, 92% of the Irish people are Roman Catholics. Around and after the time of St. Patrick, Vikings tried to invade Ireland (Country Watch). Consequently, the Vikings actually named Ireland as well as setting up the capital city of Dublin (Country Watch).            The enmity between the British and the Irish began in the 12th century when the Pope at the time gave King Henry the II control of Ireland (Country Watch). In 1846 to 1848, while Ireland was in a depression, the famous potato famine began where millions died or fled to other countries, especially the United States, for refuge (Country Watch).  The uprising in 1916 against the British, called the Easter Rising, was a preliminary to the Anglo-Irish war that lasted from 1919 to 1921 (Country Watch).  In 1948, Ireland declared themselves a Republic officially severing ties from Britain, all except for Northern Ireland  (Country Watch). says it best when summing up Ireland’s ideals: “Ireland has one of the world’s best human rights records and the government works to respect the civil and human rights of it’s citizens.”

The official language of the Republic of Ireland is Gaelic or more simply known as Irish.  The language came from the early ancestors of Ireland, the Celtics, and was used by monks in important manuscripts, including the famous Book of Kells (“Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland “). When Great Britain reigned over Ireland however, Britain wanted a united empire, so it sought to make British customs Irish customs (“Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland “). Naturally, Irish was banned and English was forced on the Irish public. Some how the language managed to survive until the ban was lifted in 1871 (“Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland “). Today, many Irish people speak Gaelic fluently, and it is a mandatory subject taught in Irish schools (“Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland “). The language is common enough that the Irish Constitution is written in both English and Irish.

From 1960-1976 there was a ban on broadcasting in Ireland in the Broadcasting Authority Acts called Section 31 (White 34).  In Northern Ireland, at the time, there was a civil rights movement going on called the ‘Northern Trouble’ in the north. Since most of Ireland was able to see programs on the television or hear them on the radio, known members of the Irish Republican Army were broadcasted to influence the Irish public (White 36). Southern Ireland then set up Section 31 “to discourage the recruitment to subversive organizations dedicated to the use of force”. (White 36) Things that were to be banned on the T.V. and radio were “any matter of a particular class [that] would be likely to promote, or incite to, crime or would tend to undermine the authority of the state”. (White 37) Sean Lynch called the law unconstitutional, as the Irish were allowed the right of free expression, and took it to court in The State (Lynch) v. Cooney (White 40). Lynch convinced the High Court with his persuasive argument but the ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in Ireland (White 41). In 1989, the law was again challenged in Purcell & Others v. Ireland by saying that section 31 was not allowed under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (White 41).  The European Commission on Human Rights rejected the request by arguing that the media has a big impact on the way the Irish people think and warranted Section 31 as a security issue (White 42). Ireland continued that way until Michael D. Higgins was elected minister and did not renew section 31, which led to the broadcasting ban being repealed by the Broadcasting Act of 2001 (White 45).

What came as a result of section 31 is what can be called a “silencing project.” (O’Brien 48) This means “legislation or government policy [that] makes citizens or media professionals wary of expressing a contrary opinion for fear of attracting a negative sanction of a public odium” (O’Brien 48).  So the Republic of Ireland not only censored media broadcasting but also affected citizen’s right to free expression by making people afraid of expressing their opinions.  Southern Ireland effectively “manipulated public opinion” with section 31 and what they were allowing to be broadcast (O’Brien 48).  A lot of the Irish thought that the government has the right to do anything to keep the government afloat, including censoring (O’Brien 50).  And since the government was already repressing the media, Irish people had no one to contest the government or inform the public (O’Brien 50).

In the Irish Constitution, or the Bunreacht Na hEireann, in Article 40, Section 6, it says, “ The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights… the right of citizens to express freely their conviction and opinions.” After facing many difficulties over freedom of expression Ireland has evolved into a country that overall is very free. It has its exceptions, in the same Article in the Irish Constitution it says, “ The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is a offence which shall be punishable in accordance with the law.” One of the biggest free speech issues that Ireland is currently facing is the blasphemy law, which mainly effects freedom of press but to a lesser degree effects free speech. A statement on the website puts it like this:

“Blasphemy laws do not protect individuals against harm but serve instead to insulate the sensitivities of religious adherents by protecting religious ideas, symbols or objects from attack or insult.” Irish law does not put up with blasphemy against God whatsoever, therefore limiting the Irish right to free speech. On the whole however, the modern Irish government is good to its people regarding free speech issues.

Also in Article 40, the Irish Constitution says, “ the education of the public of such grave import to the good, the State shall endeavor to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression including criticism of government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.” In 1922, Ireland was in a civil war over a treaty discussed with Great Britain, after Ireland’s independence, on who gets to keep Northern Ireland (Martin 15). Censorship of the newspapers played a big part in “preventing  [enemies of the state]… from spreading their message to the public” and “to criminal[ize] activist as it was easier to prove that they possessed illegal documents than that they were members of illegal organizations” (Martin 15). On the southern side of Ireland, who were in favor of the treaty letting Great Britain have Northern Ireland, the media was controlled by, the Minster of Publicity, Desmond FitzGerald (Martin 16). FitzGerald censored the press before print by telling them to call the southern Irish troops the “National Army” or the “Irish Army” while the other side’s troop was to be print as “bands”  “armed men” and “irregulars” (Martin 16-17). The press was also not allowed to write any thing promoting peace in the country or about how prisoners of war were treated on the south side (Martin 17). The Republicans, who were in not in favor of the treaty and wanted the whole island of Ireland to be free from British control, retaliated by throwing newspapers in the river, burning newspapers, and destroying newspaper offices that would not print their propaganda (Martin 19). The Irish Civil war was a hostile environment for journalist and newspapers with both sides warring over control of the press.  The press could not even print a true event of a murder in the area without being censored in the papers (Martin 18). In 1923, however, the support for the Republican side waned, as the Irish people were tired of the fighting, giving the victory to the south and led to the treaty (Martin 30).

In 1928, Minister James Fitzgerald- Kennedy wrote a censorship bill, the Censorship of Publications Act, which established the Censorship of Publications Board (Martin 81). This board was made up of five Catholics whose job is was to ban printed material that “offended public morality” like blasphemy and abortion or that “attacked the institution of marriage” from being sold in Ireland (Martin 80). The Board replaced the previous committee called the Committee on Evil Literature, which was made up of both Catholics and Protestants (Martin 80). The Protestants did not like the Catholics having that control, especially since The Catholic Truth Society’s applications were the main reason why most printed material was banned (Ferré). The reaction to the bill and the Board were overwhelmingly negative. The bill was attacked because of the vague wording of “public morality” but also because some believed the law would keep Ireland out of important international discussion. (Martin 83) George Bernard Shaw, who was against censorship, “defended the need to discuss birth control if only to prevent quacks from exploiting the ignorant” (Martin 83). The Censorship Acts are still operating today but starting in 1990s, and the five unpaid people appointed to the Board have become much more lax with their judgments concerning books and articles, choosing to pay the most attention to censoring pornography (Ferré).

The Defamation Act of 1961 in Ireland claims “all false reports are harmful” so the plaintiff has to prove the unfair words were about him or her and unless the defendant that shows the claim printed is true, the plaintiff either wins the case or settles (Ferré). Since the truth of most statements is difficult to prove, the defendant almost never wins. The Defamation Act says that anyone who “maliciously publishes any defamatory libel” will have to pay a fine between 200 to 500 pounds and serve anywhere between one to seven years in prison  (“Defamation Act, 1961”). One journalist in Ireland, Veronica Guerin, wrote articles about the Irish drug trades, which were published in The Sunday Independent (Ferré). She cleverly circumvented a libel suit by not naming the drug but instead nicknamed the dealers and did not use any identifying information (Ferré). She won awards for her for her investigative reporting but was shot and killed the next year (Ferré). The Defamation Act is still in place in Ireland today, which makes the jobs of Irish journalists even more difficult than they already are.

The two biggest issues involving free press rights in Ireland today are libel and the blasphemy libel law. Since the Defamation Act of 1961, libel suits have become so common that newspapers and book publishers use the phase “when in doubt leave it out” to guide their decisions (Ferré). Irish newspapers are out millions of Euros every year because they have to pay in libel suits; most newspapers often try to settle instead of going to court losing cases (Ferré). Even journalists sue other journalists; one male journalist sued a female journalist after she wrote how she felt sorry for his daughter after interviewing him (Ferré). Under the blasphemy libel law, passed in 2010, a person convicted would have to pay a fine of 25,000 Euros to the government (Nugent). Technically, blasphemy against God was always an offense under the Defamation Act of 1961, but it was not ever enforced in court because the wording was too vague (Nugent). Naturally, this law has inspired some rebellion, especially from a group called “Atheist Ireland” who published some blasphemous statements the day after the law was to come into effect in order to “test the law and highlight it’s absurdity” (Nugent). Mick Nugent, from Atheist Ireland said the law  “does not protect religious belief; it incentivizes outrage and it criminalizes free speech.”

The broadcasting ban that happened in Ireland would definitely not be allowed in the United States now, because it violates the free speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The Irish broadcasters were told by the government what to say, what not to say, and who to interview, all to influence the public’s opinion of the fighting in the country.  If such a case were to be presented in American courts today the precedent would be New York Times v. United States or the “Pentagon Papers” case.  In that court opinion, Justice Black wrote, “To find that the President has ‘inherent power’ to halt the publication of news by resort to be the courts would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government helps to make ‘secure’”  (New York Times v. United States 717).  The “Pentagon Papers” case was decided in 1971, while the Supreme Court upheld Section 31 in Ireland until 2001.

The blasphemy law in today now only effect free press but also free speech in general. In America, there are no blasphemy laws as evident by the fact that church members in the Westboro Baptist Church can say “Thank God for dead soldiers” and be protected under the First (Snyder v. Phelps 1210). In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Klu Klux Klan used religion to backup their unusual views and since it was only talk, the First Amendment protects them also. In Ireland, the press has to be extra careful what they say about God because of the blasphemy libel law. Libel in Ireland is automatically assumed that it was damaging, where in the United States there are more standards to meet including: proving that there was actual malice or neglect and the plaintiff providing evidence that he or she was harmed in some way.

Censoring in the Republic of Ireland began with their civil war. Ireland even has an office in the government strictly dealing with censoring newspapers that bad-mouthed the war or even the newspapers that called for peace. After the war, the censoring continued with the Censorship of Publications Act and the board it created, which forbade writings in newspapers that questioned morality. Freedom on press is a guaranteed right in America as shown by the many cases that defend and strengthen it. In the “Pentagon Papers” the Supreme Court sided in favor of the New York Times and the freedom of press, even though they exposed government secrets.  Justice Black said in the court opinion “Both History and language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news, whatever the source without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints (New York Times v. United States 717).

The Defamation Act of 1962 in Ireland in Ireland is very different from the way libel is handled in America. In the United States the plaintiff must show a lot more proof in their argument in order to win the court case thanks to cases like New York Times v. Sullivan and Gertz v. Welch.  Ireland has not had defining cases like those so libel cases are much more common and easier to win. This is a limit to the Irish press that the United States press does not have to worry about as much.

Ireland is not only a country where leprechauns are said to live and Guinness beer comes from; it is a country that has had a great evolution concerning the right to free expression. Compared the United States free speech and free press rights, Ireland’s rights are strikingly similar while at the same time very different. The Irish Constitution promises the same rights that are outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The difference is that Ireland is much older than the United States and does not have the history that the United States has. People came to the United States looking to start a government that could offer freedoms not given to them in their home country; Ireland has had to develop their views over a long period of time.  Currently, Ireland is right up there with the United States in matters of free expression, perhaps even a bit better.


Brandenburg v. Ohio. 395 U.S. 444. Supreme Court of the United States. 19699. Westlaw. Web. 3 Apr. 2012

Coran, Mary, and Mark O’Brien. Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005. Print.

            Gertz v. Welch. 680 F.2d 527. Supreme Court of the United States. 19699. Westlaw. Web. 3 Apr. 2012

Ireland. Constitution of Ireland. Dublin: The Stationary Office, 1937. Web. <,_Flag,_Anthem_Harp/Constitution_of_Ireland_March_2012.pdf >.

Ireland. Office of the Attorney General. Defamation Act, 1961. House of the Oireachtas, 1961. Web.

Ferré, John P.. “Ireland .” Press Reference. JRank, n.d. Web. 3 Apr 2012. <

Martin, Peter. Censorship in the Two Irelands 1922-1939. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006. Print.

New York Times v. Sullivan. 376 U.S. 254. Supreme Court of the United States. 19699. Westlaw. Web. 3 Apr. 2012

New York Times v. United States. 403 U.S. 713. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. Westlaw. Web. 3 Apr. 2012

Nugent, Michael. “Ireland: blasphemy Law a Backward Step.” Index on Censorship. (2009): n. page. Print.

O’Brien, Mark. “Disavowing democracy the silencing project in the south.” Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban. Ed. Mary Coran and Ed. Mark O. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005. 48-58. Print.

“Statistics on the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language.” Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland . Gaeltacht Travel in Ireland, 27 Sep 2008. Web. 3 Apr 2012. <;

Snyder v. Phelps. 131 S.0oCt. 1207. Supreme Court of the United States. 2011. Westlaw. Web. 3 Apr. 2012

White, Alex. “Section 31: ministerial orders and court challenges.” Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban. Ed. Mary Coran and Ed. Mark O’Brien. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005. 34-47. Print.

Youngblood-Coleman, Denise. “Country Review: Ireland.”, 2010. Web. 3 April 2012.  Available at URL: <;.


One Response to Ireland

  1. thewomenguru says:

    This was very informative and unbiased as well as an interesting and pleasurable read. Thank you!

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