A planned smoking ban in the North will make the entire island of Ireland a smoke-free zone by 2007.
The North’s health minister Shaun Woodward this week announced plans for a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places.
Legislation similar to that in place in the 26 Counties will be brought in to control smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants, in April 2007.
Mr Woodward made his announcement at a conference in Belfast on Monday. Earlier this year, the results of a public survey showed that 91 per cent of people in the North favoured a total ban.
Some pub owners and business groups said the minister should have opted for a partial ban. It is still not clear if private clubs will have an exemption, which would allow them to uniquely facilitate indoor smoking on the island of Ireland.
The direct-rule minister called it a “historic decision for Northern Ireland”.
“From my visit to New York, I learnt the staggering fact that a non-smoker on an eight-hour shift in a bar could inhale the equivalent of ten cigarettes a day,” he said. “Ventilation doesn’t work so a partial ban would have meant protecting workers in some workplaces but not in bars and pubs. Where’s the social justice in that?” he added.
Mr Woodward dismissed claims that a complete ban would have an adverse effect on business. He argued that a downturn in profits immediately after the ban was introduced in the South had been small and short-lived.
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun said the ban was a “welcome boost for public health”. She said that “no other decision would have made any sense”.
“I am extremely pleased by today’s decision,” she said.
“It now means that workplaces in the whole of Ireland will be smoke-free, and that can only be a positive development for the long-term health of employees and patrons.
“Support for a public ban was overwhelming, with 91 per cent of those consulted calling for a full ban.
“Over this past number of months, many people were questioning the political will of the British government to fulfil its obligations by protecting public health. In light of this, today’s decision should be welcomed wholeheartedly.
“However, I am concerned that today’s ban will not come into effect until April 2007. Such a delay is to the detriment of workers’ health, and I would call for a re-examination of this timescale.”