Smoking ban divides Ireland
Smoking ban divides Ireland

Irish culture underwent a culture shock today as a complete ban on smoking in pubs, restaurants and other workplaces came into force.

Relatively little disquiet has been expressed in most areas, while strict enforcement of the ban appears set to continue.

Mild weather has soothed smokers' nerves so far, and many pubs provided outdoor seating. Locals have appeared emptier, however, and some drinkers have complained at the change of atmosphere.

The harshest test will come this weekend, when rain and strong gales are expected to blow smokers back indoors.

300 environmental health officers, 100 health and safety officers and 40 tobacco control officers will be available to police the ban in 800 pubs across the 26 Counties.

The maximum fine for a person found guilty of an offence is 3,000 Euros.

Unions and non-smokers have hailed the change, which Irish health Minister claimed would save 150 lives a year.

Sinn Féin's health spokesman John O'Dowd was joined by assembly colleagues in a protest today to mark the beginning of the ban and to call for its extension to the north.

However, hotels along the border have already lost functions to the North because of the smoking ban, a lobby group in Louth has claimed.

The North Louth Vintners Group said weddings had been cancelled.

Chairman Andrew Smith said his members were now resigned to the ``ridiculous law'', but he called on the Minister for Health to introduce a New York-style ``get out'' clause whereby businesses badly affected can later apply to the courts for an exemption.

``We would hope maybe that the Minister would cop himself on to the extent that if people lost 40 per cent of their trade, they could get the ban lifted.'' Mr Smith said vintners in Louth were ``unfortunately going to have to enforce the law'' and would do so to the best of their ability. ``But if people get obstreperous, we're not going to physically remove them.''

A pub in Belleek, which straddles the Fermanagh/Donegal border, was facing a crisis.

Four of its five pubs are on the Fermanagh side of the Erne river, but one - the Jolly Farmer - is a few yards inside Donegal.

Edel Keown from the pub said she was very concerned that customers would take their business across the bridge into the north.

``If you had a group of people going out and somebody among them is a smoker, they won't be going to the Jolly Farmer,'' she said.

``People in Galway and Dublin have no choice - they have to accept it - but people along the border have a choice. People here can just go across the bridge into the town.''

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© 2004 Irish Republican News