"The Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade (FRLT) is the trade association for Northern Irelandís licensees - pubs, bars, hotels, restaurants and off-licenses."

(Click to read the report)

Smoking outside bad for you

A Word of Irish

We're two years into the Irish smoker ban this very weekend. A few miles north east, while the Scottish Executive is beginning its copycat putsch on its own natives, I'm out of the country, on one of my regular escapes from the awfulness.

Ironically, I've been indirectly approached by the BBC for an Irish take on what is about to happen to the Scottish. So here I am in London - where the mother-of-all-parliaments, choking on a collapsed government manifesto, has just voted in its copycat pogrom, commenting from an Irish perspective to a Scottish BBC source about how things are going in Ireland. Does it get much more convoluted than this?

There is only one line on "how things are going in Ireland", and that is the official one. Press and media collaboration in presenting the official government line must be the envy of every former Soviet apparatchik. I call it the Pravda Press. The resemblance is striking. Rather like a witness in a criminal trial succumbing to a sudden unexplained bout of amnesia, Irish journalism has collectively fallen prey to an objectivity shortfall. 96% it would seem. That's a figure they like to quote, along with words like "success", "delighted" and "compliant". This new 21st century dysfunction seems to have also spread to Scotland, where online articles emanate the same weird surrealism, and the writers have been stricken with the same mysterious edito-virus.

Tadgh O'Sullivan of the Vintners Federation of Ireland has been quoted as saying that 600 Irish Pubs have permanently closed over the past two year period and 12,000, mainly full-time jobs lost. This does not include any figure for the Dublin area, which is represented by a different body. If something like this had happened in 2003, a national emergency would have been declared and all right-thinking editors would have been on the case. The Irish Pub, centre of the community, closing in such vast numbers? Unthinkable. But it happened during the two year period since 2004 - the year smokers were put out. Ah, that's alright then. Not a whisper. The ban is 96%successful.

My own local closed permanently just after Christmas this year. A few miles in the road, another has halved its road-frontage and installed a new retail outlet space where the bar used to be. There is no tenant for it yet, so it lies empty - for months now. Three weeks ago, slightly further in, an off-licence appeared overnight, where, for as long as I remember, a vibrant pub always stood. Two hundred yards down the street from that, a grill-bar has chopped off its former non-smoking section and sub-let the space as a shop. I didn't have to go to any special trouble to find these examples. Indeed, they were the ones I just happened to notice on my routine to-ings and fro-ings. Had I been more diligent, I am sure I could have come up with more dramatic findings, even on this short six-mile stretch. The silence from the media is deafening. But the ban is 96% successful.

The deja-vu continues. Scotland is about to chop off one of its own legs, not noticing that Ireland is still screaming in pain having attempted the same trick two years ago. Medical opinion says its alright though, a little pain never killed anyone. Ah. Medical opinion. The official line. Communities are strewn, dying all over the place and no one utters a word, other than "success". Its not all that long ago since medical opinion was of a frame of mind to suggest that pulling all your teeth out was the answer to decay. Undoubtedly, they had the "research" then too, to back it up. Scotland is pulling its citizens out, on medical advice.

Lines have been blurred in this brave new century. In an era where you can buy your electricity from British Gas, the medical profession has taken to dabbling in politics like a duck to water. Consulting-room advice has now become law. Citizens are legally obliged to be "healthy" and any amount of twisted statistical rubbish is good enough to justify it, so long as it comes from a Man In A White Coat. The last taboo - medical power - ripe for inspection, and the gung-ho journalists have all gone quiet. Study after study shows that second-hand-smoke is so unimportant as to be scientifically negligible. Ignoring the facts, medicine is sinking into dodgy disrepute and, insulting our intelligence, is trying to drag us all with it.

So how are things in Ireland? Well, we all know that the "protection of workers" tag is a hook on which to hang an abominable abuse of power by our elected officials. As time goes by, there is growing disbelief in the theories supporting the ban-on-people-who-smoke. As time goes by, chinks of light are appearing as we can see ever more clearly that the issue is one of state control and not health. Having been through the process, we can probably see the bulldozer of social control a little more clearly than our Scottish brethren and a lot more than our English and Welsh cousins, whose fate, like distant elephants, is still too far away for most to notice the enormity.

Two years on, pubs and coffee shops continue to close, jobs continue to be lost, tourism continues to suffer, once-happy communities have imploded and people's social lives have been destroyed. We abhor the neo-fascist writ that now runs throughout our "democratic" legislation, for all premises, for all time, "for our own protection" and no one but the anti-smokers can see why there cannot be smoking venues for adult workers and punters who, by informed choice, would like to socialise therein.

Passing by the coffee shops and pubs, one can easily see by looking through the windows, to the comfort, where the first-class citizens are allowed by law to be, and similarly, one can easily see the outside damp, cold, wet, dank areas where the second-class citizens are allowed by law to be. People who still go to pubs tell me it's just not the same anymore - the "craic" has evaporated with the smokers.

Meanwhile the government, with a medical gun to its head, has painted itself into the most awkward of corners, unable even if it wanted, to amend its own errant legislation. Too many have suffered for it to change now, lines have been drawn, people have been divided. It will not, like the medical profession, openly discuss its own mistakes. Of course, there's a general election in 2007 and one third of the electorate are very angry, if temporarily subdued.

But, thus far, the ban is 96% successful.

March 25, 2006
© Donal McCarthy 2006. All rights reserved.


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