Debate on status of ‘treasonous’ republican paper

The government explored ways of refusing to grant the Sinn Féin publication An Phoblacht official newspaper status, and queried whether it was a “treasonable document”.

An internal government document from Jul 15, 1982, focuses on the application by An Phoblacht Republican News for registration as a newspaper under the Post Office Act 1908.

The letter, signed “PC”, begins by claiming there was a prime facie case for the minister not having the power to refuse the application but in the next paragraph “draws attention to section 10 of the of the Offences Against the State Act 1939” and how there had been no prosecution brought under that section.

“Nonetheless the section makes it a criminal offence to send through the post any document which is a treasonable document or a seditious document.”

It outlines how treason could be defined as inciting or conspiring in an attempt by violent means to overthrow the organs of government established by the Constitution.

“It is a question of fact as to whether editions of the newspaper in question habitually or even from time to time contain material such as to render the edition a treasonable or seditious document under section 10 of the Offences Against the State Act 1939 or such as to constitute treason under Article 39 of the Constitution.

“I believe that a strong argument can be mounted to the effect that the Minister’s constitutional obligation not to assist a treasonable activity is primary and that the legislation concerned in so far as it might be seen to compel him so to do would be unconstitutional but of course only to an extent.”

Initialised ‘PC’, the document concludes: “I feel a letter should be written by the Department in the clearest terms stating in order to consider the application further they require exact details of who the proprietor of the newspaper is. This may also throw light upon the question of the ‘treasonable’ activities.”

The file includes advice from the attorney general, Patrick Connolly, saying An Phoblacht “satisfies each of the requirements set out in section 20(1) of the Post Office Act 1908” and this conclusion was “unaffected by a consideration of the contents of the publication”.


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