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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Deja vu for smoke-free Ireland
By James Helm
BBC Dublin correspondent

Regulars in Ireland's smoke-free pubs have seen it all before.

Man drinks Guinness in a pub
Banning smoking in Irish pubs was inconceivable for some

The debate in Britain mirrors the one that took place here a couple of years ago. Many smokers and bar owners objected at the time - and still do - but the ban went ahead.

And now, take a walk down the street in any Irish town or slip into a bar and you'll notice the difference.

Smokers head outside if they want a cigarette, while inside the thick fug of tobacco smoke that used to linger over the beer pumps and bar stools has disappeared.

Many people here have watched the debate over the water with interest.

It will cause aggravation - some customers who want to eat will say 'why can't you get rid of the smokers?'
Oliver Hughes
Dublin's Porterhouse Bar

I've often heard smokers and non-smokers who, in the 19 months since the ban's introduction have got used to cleaner air in Irish pubs, remark on the difference after a trip to the UK.

Some say they almost tapped the smoker on the shoulder and said: "Hey - that's illegal." Going back to England, it's the first thing I notice about pubs now.

The big difference is the route chosen by the two governments.

Here, in framing the law, Bertie Ahern's then health minister, Micheal Martin, decided against a compromise of allowing smoking to continue where no food was served, or to permit no smoking areas.

Some fear pubs will stop serving food to keep their smokers

In Ireland, pubs and restaurants are included in the wider legislation which prevents smoking in the workplace.

So pubs can't now legally allow smoking on the premises.

Oliver Hughes is publican at the popular Porterhouse Bar in Dublin's Temple Bar area, and he also owns a bar of the same name in London's Covent Garden.

He was against the Irish smoking ban at the outset, but has since "done a U-turn", as he puts it.

In his Dublin pub, which sells a lot of food, things are "working perfectly" since the ban was introduced.

There's an outside area where people can smoke, and he thinks the ban may have brought some non-smokers back to pubs.

Kitchens closed

He's had particular reason to follow the debate in Britain.

As for the plan to continue to allow smoking in bars where no food is served, Mr Hughes said: "It's a disaster."

He thinks his Covent Garden pub will have to stop serving food.

"It will cause aggravation - some customers who want to eat will say 'why can't you get rid of the smokers?'."

And he added, "It's a middle of the road solution, and you know what happens when you walk down the middle of the road."

Round the corner from the Porterhouse in Dublin, is another well-known bar, the Oliver St John Gogarty.

Rain or shine

The publican there, Martin Keane, opposed the ban, and earlier this year told me it was costing his business large amounts of money in lost trade.

Things have now changed though, and he says people are coming back into the pubs.

He too has followed the arguments in Britain and thinks it would be a huge shame if some pubs stopped serving food.

"The perfect situation is to have an area that's strictly for smokers, and a bit of open space," he believes.

Patricia Hewitt
The health secretary said she wanted to go further than some of her colleagues

Trade organisations in Ireland say many pubs have lost around 20%of their trade following the ban, and jobs have been lost as a result.

Pubs in remote rural areas, or city centre bars where there's no outside space for smokers are said to have suffered most.

For their part, the Irish government and health groups have hailed the ban as a huge success that is already bringing health benefits to bar workers, and providing a more pleasant atmosphere for pub-goers.

Its relatively smooth implementation delighted the government.

Many who like a smoke and a drink took the inconvenience in their stride, and now, if they fancy a cigarette, they put their pint down on the bar and wander outside, rain or shine.

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