Why won't Pat Rabbitte do more to help parents protect children?
Published 26/07/2013 | 05:00
Pat Rabbitte is not ruling out requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to make it harder for children to access porn, but he is not ruling it in either. Why won't he do more to help parents protect their children from the extreme, hardcore porn that is so readily available via PCs, smartphones and tablets?
His column in this paper the other day gave a clue. His reluctance appears to stem from a sort of knee-jerk liberalism – somehow, he thinks making porn harder for children to access will bring us back to the bad old days of censorship.
He wrote: "We have a less than proud history of censorship, and of a quasi-authoritarian approach to the State exercising absolute authority in determining people's access to information on a wide range of issues, particularly where human sexuality is concerned. Any move that harks at regression must be examined carefully."
I wonder if Mr Rabbitte has read 'An Age of Innocence' by Brian Fallon, one of Ireland's most renowned arts critics. Fallon examines Irish cultural history between 1930 and 1960, the period when we were supposedly at our most repressed. He finds that while some of the stereotype holds true, the period was much freer and more creative than myth allows.
But the myth that we were the Most Oppressed People Ever is very useful as a substitute for a proper argument. If something can be labelled, nay stigmatised, as harking back to the bad old days, then no argument needs to be made at all. Label any given proposal in this way and that is enough to defeat it.
This is what makes it so odd that conservatism is still portrayed as the great ideological enemy of the Irish people when today it is really a reactionary liberalism of the sort Pat Rabbitte displays in his article.
This dread of a partially mythologised Ireland when we were supposedly the Most Oppressed People Ever stops one proposal after another from being rationally discussed.
Mr Rabbitte is being forced to address the issue after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government will be asking ISPs to require their customers to "opt-in" to porn, otherwise porn sites will be automatically blocked.
When the minister did leave off frightening us with visions of our terrible past and did address himself in his article to providing a few actual arguments against the British proposal, he failed dismally.
He made a distinction between illegal pornographic material (such as images of children) and legal pornography. But both types alarm parents because so much of the legal pornography is so extreme.
As Senator Mary Ann O'Brien said the other day: "I never thought that I would stand in the Seanad and feel nostalgic for 'Hustler', 'Penthouse' or 'Playboy'. But now we have got to admit to ourselves that we have to think of them as part of the good ol' days." For the record, I supported the lifting of the ban on 'Playboy'."
Ms O'Brien was quoting a recent 'Sunday Times' feature that reported on the proceedings of a conference on children and pornography organised by that newspaper.
The conference heard from Dr John Woods, an expert on porn addiction, who told delegates: "Adolescents who are consuming large amounts of internet pornography not only relax their boundaries towards sexual violence but are also more likely to see women as sex objects and engage in risk-taking behaviours such as unprotected sex."
Eleanor Mills, the author of the feature, spoke to a group of girls who told her: "Girls look at porn to see how they should do things. Some think if they don't do it like in porn, then boys won't like them."
Parents need to take it as a given that when their sons in particular reach their mid-teens or so they will have seen hardcore porn.
And their sons may well think this is what sex is like, and it is what they must do and it is what girls expect them to do. Because if the girls think this is what boys expect of them, equally boys might think it is what girls expect of them. That is to say, zero tenderness plus sex as something akin to violence.
Pat Rabbitte said he will talk with the ISPs about the matter. But as mentioned, doesn't seem to be in it.
Instead, he practically washed his hands of the matter, telling parents they can take steps to protect their children against hardcore porn while adding that young people can find their way around internet blocks in any case.
He might equally say that parents can protect their children from alcohol and that minors are often able to get their hands on alcohol no matter what we do. Both of these things are true, but we still have a law against serving alcohol to children under 18 years of age.
The whole purpose of what Mr Cameron supports in Britain and Mr Rabbitte all but opposes here is to empower parents.
Why does Minister Rabbitte not see this? Why is he not more eager to help parents in this matter?