PEN Calls on Ireland to End Restrictions on Artists Discussing 8th Amendment

By | May 23, 2018 at 10:38 am | No comments | News

Ahead of Ireland’s historic referendum on the Eighth Amendment – which makes abortion illegal in almost all circumstances – PEN International and Irish PEN would like to express concern at restrictions placed upon artists wishing to discuss the issue of abortion in Ireland. The organizations call on the Irish authorities to reverse the chilling effect on freedom of artistic expression created by recent cancellations of discussion events and removal of art works.

On 25 May 2018, voters across Ireland will be asked whether they wish to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, commonly known as the Eighth Amendment, which criminalizes abortion unless there is a ‘real and substantial’ risk to a pregnant woman’s life.

There have been numerous reports of arts organisations and public bodies cancelling events, including plays, exhibitions, film screenings and readings aimed at discussing the issue of abortion in Ireland in the past few weeks. Last month, Ireland’s Charities Regulator’s ordered the Project Arts Centre in Dublin to remove a mural by Irish street artist Maser featuring the words ‘Repeal the 8th’, which it deemed to constitute ‘political activity’, or else it would lose its charitable status. Following this decision, many Irish arts charities have reportedly become fearful that they could risk their charitable status if they programme art that engages with the issue of abortion and the Eight Amendment. The cancellation by Dublin City Council of an event on ‘The Question of the Eight’ from the International Literary Festival Dublin programme has contributed to this chilling effect and self-censoring by arts venues.

‘Literature and the arts are central to Irish identity. Artistic engagement with Irish society and politics is more important than ever in the context of a referendum such as this one,’ said Frank Geary, Freedom to Write Chair, Irish PEN. ‘Art has a unique power to address social issues and the self-censorship we are currently witnessing in Ireland profoundly undermines that. The Irish authorities must uphold freedom of expression to the highest standards and do everything in their power to reverse this trend.’

‘At PEN International it is our mission to combat and eliminate the silencing of women worldwide, including through censorship,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. ‘The cancellation of events around the issue of abortion in Ireland is reported to have disproportionately affected women artists. As they strive to share women’s stories, they must be afforded every opportunity to express themselves freely.’

Further Information
On 18 May 2018, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties denounced the ‘chilling effect’ observed in Ireland in the wake of the removal of Maser’s ‘Repeal the 8th’ mural and released a policy statement relating to freedom of artistic expression during the pre-referendum context.

PEN International’s Women’s Manifesto, launched on 8 May 2018, is a set of principles that aim to protect free expression for women. It notably enshrines the rights of women to be given the same access to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to enable the full and free participation and public recognition of women in all media and across the spectrum of literary forms.

Photo credit: Cian O’Brien, artistic director of the Project Theatre, painting over the Repeal art work by artist Maser. (Source: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times)

© PEN Canada 2018 · 401 Richmond St. E., Suite 258, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3A8 · Phone: 416 703 8448
· Charitable Business Number 88916 2541 RR0001