THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: From the News Letter of February 1956

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Protests at ‘indecent books’ in Smithfield

Protests against the sale in Smithfield of what were described as “indecent and obscene’’ books were made by a number of members at the City Council which was held this week in 1956 reported the News Letter.

After discussions the council defeated an amendment to refer back a decision of the Estates and Market Committee to take no action in the absence 
of specific evidence.

The minutes of the committee stated that a letter from a school teacher had been received, drawing attention to the sale of magazines and books “of low moral standard” and requesting the committee to give “sympathetic consideration” to the question of preventing the sale of such publications.

Smithfield Market in BelfastSmithfield Market in Belfast
Smithfield Market in Belfast

The Town Solicitor had pointed out that the police authorities were prepared to prosecute in such cases where there was sufficient evidence. Meanwhile the corporation had the power to terminate the tenancy of any person “found selling undesirable publications”.

Smithfield Ward Irish Labour Councillor D P Marrinan said the answer contained in the minutes was not sufficient. They noted that under the Town Improvement Act of 1854 “any person who offered for sale profane, indecent or obscene books, magazines or other literature or sang a profane, indecent or obscene ballad in public was liable to a fine”. And after that the corporation could refuse to continue the bookseller’s licence.

The councillor commented: “The whole of the corporation and Belfast knew that you can see young men looking at books which are a disgrace to the city.”

Councillor Marrinan declared: “Here is a drawn dagger levelled at the young people of Belfast.”

Falls Ward Irish Labour Councillor Alderman McKearney said that the Estates Committee was adopting a “Pilate-like” attitude by washing its hands of the matter.

Meanwhile, St Anne’s Ward Ulster Unionist Councillor Alderman William Cecil McKee pointed out that there was not single publication in Smithfield shops which could not be bought in half dozen other shops in the city.

He remarked: “I think this issue is being gravely exaggerated. Smithfield specialises in a certain kind of cheap literature which is turned out by respectable publishers. It is not intended to give offence to anybody, and I do not think it does offend a great number of people.”

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