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Pro-life Rally slams ‘censorship’ as Council refuses posters advertising event

"Attack on democracy"

The Rally for Life, a major pro-life event which takes place in Dublin every year, has been told by Fingal County Council (FCC) that they cannot put up posters advertising their upcoming event in Fingal as such posters would be “contentious.”

An officer in the Operations Department of the FCC told the Rally that the FCC “does not allow posters of a contentious nature on public property.”

When questioned by Gript Patricia Kennedy, the staff officer who oversaw the decision to refuse the Rally permission to put up posters, told Gript that she had determined that FCC would “receive lots of complaints from the public” if the poster were allowed. When asked how this had been determined Kennedy stated, “from many years of experience in the Fingal County Council, I could pre-empt the negative feedback we would receive.”

Kennedy claimed that permission was refused due to an image on the poster, rather than the fact that the posters promoted a pro-life event, but emails seen by Gript show that the Rally offered to remove the image in question from the poster and were told the poster would still be refused as the issue itself was still “contentious.” Megan Ní Scealláin of the Rally for Life Committee told Gript that the FCC’s refusal was “open censorship of one point of view,” and was, in their view, “an attack on free speech happening in plain sight” and was “completely unacceptable.”

The poster Fingal took issue with.

 

Both Kennedy and the FCC Press Office ignored requests to provide Gript with a written policy saying that Council staff were free to determine if an event was “contentious.” When directly asked if allowing individual officers to refuse to allow advertisements for public meetings on an ad hoc basis, with no apparent oversight or means of appeals, constituted a threat to freedom of expression Kennedy stated that “the refusal of permission for your [sic] poster was not based on any freedom of expression issue.”

Ní Scealláin said that “the excuse that the poster is controversial doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This is an example of a local body completely overstepping their authority and thinking they can decide which opinions or events are acceptable and which are not.” She asked “why has the Council decided that it will censor a pro-life vent – the biggest pro-life event of the year?” Ní Scealláin ended her comment to Gript by stating “this is a breach of our Constitutional rights and an attack on the democratic right to protest and to free speech. They need to reverse this course immediately.”

Kennedy claimed that the posters would have been refused anyway as the event they are promoting is “not taking place which is not [sic] within the administrative area of Fingal County Council.” The email of refusal the Rally received does not state this, and the guidelines for posters available on the FCC’s website do not state that posters will be refused on that basis. The form organisations must fill out to request permission to erect posters does not even ask where the event the posters are promoting is being held. Again, neither Kennedy or the FCC Press Office were willing, or able, to provide Gript with a written policy document setting out that restriction.

Kennedy refused to directly answer when asked if she would have reached a similar decision if the posters had been for a different event, such as a gay pride march, rather than a pro-life event. FCC’s Press Office failed to answer any question submitted to them on this matter, or send over any relevent policies, simply saying “The event in question is to be held in the Dublin City Council functional area and signage in the Fingal area is therefore not appropriate for this or other events outside our functional area. We have no further comment.”

South Dublin County Council also told the Rally for Life that they would not allow posters advertising the event in their area, on the basis that the event was not being held in the SDCC area. We received no response when we requested to be provided with a written policy document laying out that restriction.

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