Breen, Dermot H. (1924–78), founder of Cork International Film Festival and film censor, was born 18 August 1924 in Waterford, sixth child of James Breen and Brigid Breen. He was educated in Cork at the Presentation Brothers College and at the Provincial College. Initially a salesman, and subsequently a commercial traveller, he became manager (1956–64) of the Palace Cinema, Cork, where in addition to films, he reintroduced live entertainment, drama, and ballet after a lapse of thirty years. In 1964 he established the first public relations consultancy in Cork, becoming managing director of Dermot Breen Public Relations Consultants Ltd., and was elected a member of the British Institute of Public Relations (1965) and of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. An imaginative producer, he set new standards in amateur drama; he acted and directed with the Cork Little Theatre Company and was co-founder of the Presentation Theatre Guild, Cork, where he was director of several award-winning plays.
An Tóstal was held throughout the twenty-six counties in April 1953, presenting a cultural, social, and sporting programme designed to express the Irish way of life and revive the spirit that had animated Gaelic festivals. As founder member and hon. secretary of the Cork Tóstal Council, Breen organised the programme of events in Cork. From this developed the Cork International Choral Festival, of which Breen was director (1954–9). His greatest achievement was as founder and director (1956–78) of the Cork International Film Festival. Convinced that film was the most powerful art form of the twentieth century, he sought to foster popular interest, promoted the short film as an art form, and introduced Irish audiences to the work of leading film directors. The first feature-length films made in the Irish language, Mise Éire and Saoirse?, had their premières at the Cork Film Festival in 1959 and 1961 respectively. In 1959 it was one of the few film festivals to earn the recognition of the International Federation of Film Producers' Associations, and it became an annual event. Breen attended film festivals throughout the world and gave lectures on radio and television. He adjudicated and received honours at the 1964 Berlin Film Festival, represented Ireland on the international body for the promotion of short and documentary film festivals, and was a member of the Irish film industry committee that made recommendations to the government in July 1968.
A member of the film censorship appeal board (1970–72), he was appointed film censor in 1972 and occupied the post until 1978. The first occupant to have any cinematic experience, he sought to lessen the secrecy surrounding censorship and was also the first censor to participate in public debate. Breen claimed that he would base his decisions on ‘what I would like my children, and they range from 10 to 19, to see’ (Carty, 91); his period of office was marked by greater liberalisation, a reduction in the banning of films, and the increased use of certificates with age restrictions. He continued to cut ‘soft pornography’ and bad language, and rejected anything that suggested irreverence towards or criticism of the catholic church. Breen was a member of the Cork Advisory Tourist Board and the Cork Rotary Club, and president of the Presentation Brothers College Past Pupils' Union. He died 4 October 1978 in Dublin and is buried in St Finbarr's cemetery, Cork. He married (1952) Vida Mary Daly; they had two sons and three daughters.