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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Irish pub defies anti-smoking law
Smokers in Irish pub
Ireland's smoke-filled pubs are (mostly) a thing of the past
A pub in western Ireland is allowing its customers to smoke, in open defiance of the country's recent ban on lighting up in the workplace.

Galway-based Fibber McGee's decided to flout the law after suffering a 60% drop in sales since the ban was introduced in March.

Health officials have said they will seek a court injunction against the pub if it does not comply by Thursday.

But its proprietors are standing firm, claiming their livelihood is at stake.

"We're going out of business. We might as well go out with a puff of smoke," said co-owner Ciaran Levanzin.

The authorities are equally determined to bring the rebel publicans to book.

"We do see this as open defiance of the law, and the Western Health Board will be upholding the law and will be prosecuting the law," said Irish Health Minister Micheal Martin.

Fibber McGee's owners could ultimately lose their licence to serve alcohol if they do not back down.

Sales impact

Fibber McGee's is the first of Ireland's 10,000 pubs to mount an open challenge to the smoking ban, but others have said they may follow suit.

We've no option but to invite our smoking customers back and see what happens
Ronan Lawless, Fibber McGee's co-owner
Until now, the measure has proved surprisingly uncontroversial.

The government has claimed that 97% of pubs comply with the law, designed to protect bar staff from the effects of passive smoking.

A recent survey carried out for Ireland's Sunday Tribune newspaper found that the ban had had little impact on the pub trade, with 5% of respondents reporting an increase in business.

Most pubs have attempted to accommodate smokers by building outdoor areas where they can indulge their habit.

Ireland's experiment with strict anti-smoking legislation has been closely followed abroad, with Norway introducing similar legislation last month.

In the UK, the government is under growing pressure to follow suit.

However, there is evidence that sales have suffered since Ireland's pubs went smoke-free.

According to the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents some 6,000 pubs, business has fallen off by between 15 and 25% since the ban came into force.

Smoking area

"Many small, rural, and family-owned pubs have been hit particularly hard since the introduction of the ban and have serious concerns for their livelihoods," said the Federation's president, Seamus O'Donoghue.

The proprietors of Fibber McGee's, based in the centre of Galway, a busy tourist centre and university town, claim the ban deprived them of up to half of their former customers.

"With the smoking ban, our business was going down the tubes anyway," said Ronan Lawless, who runs Fibber McGee's in partnership with Mr Levanzin.

"We've no option but to invite our smoking customers back and see what happens."

The stand-off continues.



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