Seanad Éireann - Volume 1 - 07 June, 1923


Bill reported to the Seanad.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The motion is: “That this Bill be now considered on Report.” Senator McKean, now is your opportunity if you wish to move an amendment.

Mr. McKEAN: My amendment is to paragraph 4, Section 3, and I wish to move “That no person having stock or shares, or financial interest in any Company, having for its object the exhibition of pictures, shall be eligible for membership of this Board,” that is, the Appeal Board, and also “That no officer in the the employment of the Official Censor or of this Board——

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The second one comes into Clause 4. Clause 4 deals with officers. Clause 3 deals with the members of the Board. Let us deal with one thing at a time. At present you are moving an amendment to Clause 3, Sub-section 4, I understand.

Mr. McKEAN: I thought by coupling the two I would shorten it.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I am afraid you cannot do that. The shortest way around is often the longest way home, and I think if you were to put the second one in here it would be quite out of order.

Mr. McKEAN: My present proposition is that no person having any stock or shares, or interested in any way financially in the exhibition of moving pictures shall be a member of the Appeal Board. I think it is very obvious that this is a desirable recommendation. Of course, the cinema people and those interested in pictures are very powerful organisations, and [1143] they could very easily influence people connected with these Boards, which would be very undesirable.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Have you written this out yet? I do wish members of the Seanad would recollect that it is very important to have these amendments in black and white, because it is impossible to follow them unless the members have them in print before them.

Mr. BARRINGTON: Sub-section 3 provides for the appointment of fit persons to be members of the Board. Sub-section 4 only deals with the filling up of vacancies which occur by reason of death or resignation, and I think what Senator McKean proposes is that the persons appointed in the first instance should be fit and proper persons.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I think the proper place for it to appear is as a proviso at the end of the Section.

Mr. M. O'DEA: I second the amendment.

Mr. DE LOUGHRY: I do not know what the motive underlying Senator McKean's proposal is. I would like to point out that, as far as I know, the people engaged in the film business are as anxious to have this Bill passed as anyone else. They are most anxious that the censoring should be done in a proper way, because it will relieve them of a good deal of responsibility. When the Bill was before us yesterday it was stated that objection had been raised to a film that had been passed by the casting vote of a priest. If a clergyman is not a judge of what is proper and right, I do not know where we lay people come in. I would not put myself up against a clergyman, anyway.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I am afraid you are not speaking to the amendment

Mr. DE LOUGHRY: I am speaking against it. The point I wish to bring home is this: I am against this Bill altogether, so far as the censoring of films goes, because I think that the public are the real censors; but this amendment assumes that the people engaged in the film business have some motive in having films passed that should not be passed.

[1144] AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Might I say that it is an elementary principle of our jurisprudence that where any person is exercising judicial functions, such as this Board of Appeal will necessarily be, they should not have any interest, financial or otherwise, in the subject-matter. That is an elementary principle of our jurisprudence.

Mr. DE LOUGHRY: People engaged in the film business would be of very great help on that Board.

Mr. BLYTHE: I had not thought that such a proviso as this would be necessary. I hope that we will never have a Minister for Home Affairs who would appoint people interested in the production of films, or in having certain films, perhaps, refused the right of production because of such persons' interest in other firms, if they should ever be appointed members of this Board; but of course, it is not a proviso that anybody would object to, and I think that I could accept it. I would suggest that perhaps it might be widened a little, and that it would include people financially interested in companies concerned not only in the exhibition, but in the production of films.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Would Senator McKean have any objection to the introduction of the words “any company having for its object the exhibition or production”?

Mr. McKEAN: I agree to that.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The amendment as it at present stands, moved and seconded, and now before the Seanad, reads as follows, and it will appear at the end of Section 3:—“Provided that no person having stock or shares, or being financially interested, in any company having for its object the exhibition or production of moving pictures shall be eligible for membership for this Board.”

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. McKEAN: There is another amendment which I wish to propose, and it is at the end of Section 7.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: What about the amendment you mentioned a moment ago to Clause 4?

[1145] Mr. McKEAN: I think it is included in the amendment we have already passed.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I am certain it is not. Of course, if you do not want to move it, I will say nothing more about it.

Mr. McKEAN: Then I shall move it:—“That no officer of the Official Censor having, directly or indirectly, any connection with moving pictures shall be eligible for a position under either of these officers, namely, the Official Censor or the Appeal Board.” I should like to say that it is practically the same thing as the other, and that is why I wanted to include it in the other.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Really Senator, I have given you great latitude, and if you do not realise what I have pointed out for your benefit I must rule you out of order, because this amendment has no affinity whatever to the previous section we dealt with. The previous section dealt exclusively with members of the Appeal Board. You are now seeking to put in there some provision with regard to the officers. That is conversant with a wholly different section.

Mr. McKEAN: I accept, of course, your interpretation of it.

Mr. BLYTHE: I would suggest that this proviso would be unnecessary in the case of the officers. The Official Censor is responsible, and he must see that his officers behave themselves. He is the judge so far as he is concerned, and it really does not matter much as to what the interests, say, of his clerk might be. I think the same thing applies in the case of the Appeal Board. It is the Board will give the decision, and if there is a clerk or, say, a charwoman in the office who would be interested in pictures it would not matter.

Mr. McKEAN: I think I shall withdraw the amendment.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Does any member of the Seanad wish to move any other amendment on this Report Stage?

Mr. McKEAN: I am sorry I have got to inflict another amendment.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Is this in writing yet?

[1146] Mr. McKEAN: It is in writing here.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: I really must give you warning that this is the last time I shall allow you on the Report Stage to move amendments of which you have neither given notice nor taken the trouble to put in writing.

Mr. McKEAN: I am entirely in your hands, Sir, and in the hands of the Minister.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: What is your amendment now? What clauses are you dealing with?

Mr. McKEAN: Clause 7, paragraph between sub-sections 4 and 5. I wish to move: “That children or young persons under the age of 16 years shall not be admitted to any cinema theatre unless in a body from the school and under the supervision of their teachers.” We all know the far-reaching importance of the cinema houses and of the influence they have on the morals of the nation. Some years ago in the North side of Dublin a series of robberies were committed, and it was discovered in all cases that in the houses that had been entered it was the gas meters that were tampered with, and that it was solely and entirely out of the gas meters and gas stoves that the money had been taken. When the police of the district went into the matter they found that a body of young boys from the ages of 10 to 14 were raiding houses, and when they went into the houses they simply raided the gas meters, and it was found out afterwards that the reason for doing this was that they wanted to go to the cinema houses. We know the influence of the cinema houses, and we find that on the films the “penny dreadful” is put on in a realistic form.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Are you proposing to move this as an amendment to Section 7?

Mr. McKEAN: Yes.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: It will be wholly out of place there, for Section 7 deals solely with the indecency of the picture exposed. It will have to come in as a substantive new clause. It has no relevance to anything in Clause 7.

Mr. McKEAN: Well, I will put it in as a new clause. I think that when there is an Appeal Board the important thing [1147] is to look after the morals of young people. They will be the people of Ireland in the next generation, and if we do not look after their morals and if we sanction anything that is contaminating to them it will reflect on us. I think that this recommendation I am now moving will help to take away that class of thing. The young people should be protected. Enter these cinema houses, and you will see the penny dreadful put before them. We know that the present is a very materialistic age, and the cinema house is a sort of propaganda for materialism of a certain kind. It is an appeal to the senses and not an appeal at all to the judgment. Everything is put before you there dealing with the senses. I think that is a very bad idea, and that what we ought to do is to try and protect young people from that class of thing. I believe that a lot of the Irregularism and trouble we have had in Ireland could be traced, and is directly attributable, to the cinema houses, and there would have been far less trouble in Ireland at present and during the last year or so if it were not for the realistic productions put before the youth of the country. They, taking advantage of what was put before them, put into practice what they saw on the films.

My desire is to protect the youth of the country from such influences. The recommendation which I propose has been adopted in other countries. In Bavaria young people under 18 years of age are not allowed into cinema houses, and in certain of the States in America young people under 16 years of age are precluded from going into these places. In my recommendation I make an exception. I suggest that when children go to cinema houses they should be in charge of their teachers, and that the superintendents of the schools should have power to decide whether the films to be exhibited are fit for the young people to see, and that, having decided that the films are fit to be seen, they would take charge of the children and go with them to the cinema houses.

Mr. W.B. YEATS: I would like to comfort the mind of the Senator who has just spoken, but I am afraid I shall not succeed. This is really an old problem —a problem that has troubled a great [1148] many writers and a great many artists. I remember myself——

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Are you rising to second this amendment?

Mr. YEATS: I am not.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: Senator McKean's amendment reads as follows: —“Young people under 16 years of age shall not be admitted to any cinema theatre unless in a body from their schools, and under the supervision of their masters.” Does any Senator second that?

The EARL of WICKLOW: Not that I am in the smallest degree in sympathy with the amendment which has been proposed, but in order that we shall not be deprived by our rules of the rest of Senator Yeats's remarks, I should like to be allowed to second the amendment.

Mr. YEATS: A terrible responsibility has been thrust upon me. I merely rose to say that I thought I could comfort the mind of the Senator who proposed this amendment. Artists and writers for a very long time have been troubled at intervals by their work. I remember John Synge and myself both being considerably troubled when a man, who had drowned himself in the Liffey, was taken from the river. He had in his pocket a copy of Synge's play, “Riders to the Sea,” which, you may remember, dealt with a drowned man. We know, of course, that Goethe was greatly troubled when a man was taken from the river, having drowned himself. The man had in his pocket a copy of “Werther,” which is also about a man who had drowned himself. It has again and again cropped up in the world that the arts do appeal to our imitative faculties. We comfort ourselves in the way Goethe comforted himself, that there must have been other men saved from suicide by having read “Werther.” We see only the evil effect, greatly exaggerated in the papers, of these rather inferior forms of art which we are now discussing, but we have no means of reducing to statistics their other effects. I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the general conscience of mankind.

Amendment put and negatived.

[1149] Mr. W. BARRINGTON: Would I be in order in proposing a small amendment? It is just a few words to Sub-section 3 of Section 7. The amendment was suggested to me by a film which I saw the other day in England. It strikes me a great many films at the present day are devoted entirely to propaganda—propaganda that may be very useful in one country and very injurious in another. In my opinion, it would be absolutely fatal to show such a film in this country. The amendment I propose is to add after the words “public morality,” on the last line of Sub-section 3, the following: “or otherwise undesirable in the public interest.”

Mr. H.S. GUINNESS: I beg to second the amendment.

Mr. DOUGLAS: I suggest that we should be very careful before we sanction such wide powers to a Censor as are proposed by Senator Barrington. I understand what he is driving at, and I think it is quite conceivable that there might be films which in the public interest it would not be desirable to show. I should be extremely unwilling to set up any Censor, or any Film Board, which would have such complete powers as to censor anything simply on the ground that they thought it was not in the public interest. I am sure there are members of the Seanad who hold political opinions which I think are not in the public interest, but I do not think I should have the right to censor them. If you are going to give as wide a scope as is suggested under this amendment, then I think it would be much better not to have the Censor at all.

Mr. BLYTHE: I quite agree with Senator Douglas. I think it would be better not to have the Bill at all than to have a Bill that would put such powers into the hands of the Censor.

Mr. BARRINGTON: I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

AN CATHAOIRLEACH: The question now is that this Bill do pass, and on this I might mention that upon this stage of the Bill verbal amendments can be made, and the Minister in charge of the Bill has suggested to me that he would like to have an amendment that [1150] would, perhaps, have the effect of making the meaning of Senator McKean's amendment clearer, though slightly altering it in form. What he suggests does not interfere with the substance in any way, but rather helps to develop the object the Senator has in view. With this amendment it would read: “No person having stock or shares, or being financially interested in any company having for its object the exhibition or production of moving pictures, shall be eligible for membership of this Board.”

The Minister now asks the Seanad to amend that by putting in these words having this object: “The exhibition of pictures by means of cinematograph or similar apparatus, or production of pictures capable of being so exhibited.” This only makes the meaning plainer, and probably the House will approve of the amendment.

Question: “That this amendment be made,” put and agreed to.

Question: “That this Bill be now passed,” put and agreed to.