A Church of Ireland archdeacon has branded a requirement under the new anti-smoking legislation for churches to display no smoking signs as "overkill".
Smoking will be banned in workplaces from 30 April
From the end of this month all places of worship in Northern Ireland will have to erect such signs, measuring at least 148mm x 210mm, at public entrances.
The Ven Phillip Patterson told the Church of Ireland Gazette that he felt this particular manifestation of the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which will make it illegal to smoke in virtually places of work or enclosed public spaces from 30 April, was "unnecessary".
He continued: "Some churches besides being places of worship are quite beautiful buildings, and indeed are listed buildings. I think this requirement of having to put up no smoking signs will only detract from them.
"I think of my own church, Knockbreda Parish Church in Belfast, which is a grade A listed building, and many other fine church buildings.
"Other pieces of legislation have been derogated from: churches which are listed don't have to display emergency exit signs, for example, and I think that a similar step would be appropriate here."
The Archdeacon of Down added that in all his years' service he had never seen anyone smoking in a church, however, he admitted he had seen someone lighting up in a church hall.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "I accept, without reservation, that there is a long tradition not to smoke in churches but, as I am sure people will appreciate, to have provided an exemption would have created a dangerous precedent."
Kathleen Quinlan of Ireland's Office of Tobacco told the same publication that no smoking signs had been required in churches south of the border since 2004.
She added, however, that the relevant piece of legislation did not specify the precise location.