Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s Environmental Services Committee has voted against a recommendation to refuse reclassification of the new Batman movie by majority, with both Unionist groupings opposed.

This led one member to claim: “The UUP and DUP seem to want to ban Batman, which is quite extraordinary.”

A letter was received by a cinema operator asking the Council to consider redesignating the movie to 15A, after the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) certified it 15.

The same request was approved by Belfast City Council, but the Council’s Director of Community and Wellbeing, John Boyle, pointed to a “greyness” on whether the Council could undertake film reclassification.

He added that the 15A classification doesn’t exist with the BBFC, and “we take our lead from them,” adding: “The difficulty is that the Republic of Ireland has 15A, meaning any person under that age can go as long as accompanied by an adult, whereas a 15 means no entry unless 15 or over.”

Mr. Boyle highlighted risks as: “If the Council set a reclassification, particularly if it is lower ... It may cause reputational damage if something were to go wrong and a case was brought against the cinema, and ultimately maybe the Council.”

He continued: “There is no doubt the cinema operator has made a very strong case around impacts on their takings, especially when in a Border region.

“People are going to the cinema in Cavan, Monaghan and Sligo to view these films with their children.

“However, taking account of all evidence, it is the view of officers we are probably best erring on the side of caution, and to go by the expertise of the BBFC, and we shouldn’t override that.”

In light of the difference between the two jurisdictions, Mr. Boyle nonetheless suggested writing to the BBFC requesting a review to ensure Northern Ireland cinemas are not disadvantaged.

Democratic Unionist Councillor Keith Elliott supported the recommendation to refuse the reclassification, saying: “We don’t have the expertise to start meddling,” which was seconded by party colleague, Councillor Paul Robinson.

‘Grey area’

Taking a contrary position, Councillor Siobhan Currie, Sinn Fein, said: “We have a condition that BBFC films are shown, but the grey area referenced is we don’t appear to have anything to show the age classification should be adhered to.

“Superhero films are aimed at the teenage demographic, and that’s the disparity between the two classifications.”

She proposed the Council grant to request to vary classification and use the Irish Film Certification Office (IFCO) standard, due to the area’s close proximity to neighbouring cinema facilities across the Border.

“[The] BBFC and IFCO mirror each other except in the 15 and 15A classifications,” Councillor Currie said.

This was seconded by party colleague, Councillor Anthony Feely.

However, Ulster Unionist Councillor Alex Baird remarked: “I find this disconcerting. The BBFC classification is the standard we use in this jurisdiction.

“This will set a precedent, and if the shoe was on the other foot, and the disadvantage was to cinemas across the Border, we’d be faced with another difficulty.

“I think it’s crazy that just because a cinema comes to us because of a perceived disadvantage, that we overturn the decision of the body that was set up to adjudicate on film classification.”

While supporting refusal, Councillor Baird felt there should be “harmonisation of classification” between the BBFC and IFCO.

Sinn Fein’s Councillor Sheamus Greene said: “It’s a very strange situation where young people a few miles away can watch the film, but those here cannot.

“It’s bizarre they can hop in the car with their father or mother and watch it a few miles down the road anyway.

“There’s something wrong with that whole perception. Tthe UUP and DUP seem to want to ban Batman, which is quite extraordinary.”

Councillor Elliott’s proposal to refuse the classification change was rejected 16-13, while Councillor Currie’s passed 15-13, with one abstention.