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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
nudey films

Pornography being shown in pubs had the government in a fluster 30 years ago

The government of the time was not one bit happy at the thought of sex shops coming to these shores either.

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1985 SEEMS TO have been the year pornography found Ireland if certain papers released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule are anything to go by.

A number of different issues loosely bundled together under the heading ‘Pornographic Films’ give an indication of what Irish society at the time made of risqué films.

First up is a letter from one P Caulfield from Knock, Co Mayo, imploring Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald not to ‘allow the Cork Film Festival to show the film Hail Mary on television’. The letter is written in French.

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20151204_125055 National Archives 2015 / 88/626 This was also included with the letter National Archives 2015 / 88/626 / 88/626

Hail Mary was an avant-garde film from renowned French director Jean Luc Godard. It concerns a sort of contemporary retelling of the story of the Virgin Mary, and was considered especially controversial due to containing full-frontal nudity among other things.


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“I hope that the government will collaborate with the church and with the public opinion so that such a horrible event does not happen,” a rough translation of the letter reads.

A note from the Taoiseach’s private secretary asks ‘Katherine’: “perhaps you would let me know your view on this. Should we reply in English, French, or not at all?”

Katherine was evidently of the view that in this case “acknowledgement is sufficient”.

Pornography in pubs

The other items of interest on file stem from slightly earlier – 1981 and 1982 – but appear to have been no less incendiary as far as the Irish public were concerned.

A letter from Clare County Council to Taoiseach Charles Haughey in January 1981 recites a resolution the council had adopted:

That Clare County Council call on the government to investigate public showings of blue films in licensed premises.

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In the 80s it appears to have been something of a phenomenon that pornographic films would on occasion be shown after hours in certain rural public houses.

What action or otherwise was taken by the government at the time is not noted.

Finally, a series of letters between Haughey and the Irish Countrywoman’s Association (ICA) in November 1982 (by which stage his government was set to fall in the aftermath of the GUBU scandal) detail the Taoiseach’s displeasure at the prospect of sex-shop chain Conegate setting up stall in Ireland.

This was fully 17 years before the Ann Summers chain would open an outlet on Dublin’s O’Connell Street which was a national controversy in itself at that time.

Conegate was (and still is) a company belonging to David Sullivan, who became a millionaire in the 70s via a soft-pornography empire. Currently Sullivan is co-owner of West Ham United in the English Premier League.

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The ICA initially wrote to both Haughey and then Fine Gael leader FitzGerald expressing their unhappiness at the suggestion that Conegate was on its way to Ireland, and requesting a commitment that this would not happen.

Haughey’s private secretary replied that the Taoiseach “would be totally opposed to the opening of any such shops”.

He has brought your Association’s legitimate concern on this subject to the attention of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and of the Revenue Commissioners for any action which may be necessary in the matter.

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Read: Poll: Is mainstream porn degrading to women?

Read: An American teenager has barely escaped prosecution for sexually exploiting… himself

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