THOUGH I have previously found myself in support of a large body of the councils work in the area of public health, I have to place on record my outrage at the seemingly arrogant stance of director of pubic health, Dr Peter Elton, on the issue of smoking in public places.

Let me make my position clear; the bans already imposed in the workplace, on public transport, in cinemas and in a multitude of other public places are justifiable constraints put in place to enhance the freedoms of those who are compelled to be in a particular situations at particular times. Nobody disputes that, on the whole, such bans are reasonable, but certain factions are getting a little bit carried away by their own power and the desire to put Bury on the map as an example of the new "Nanny State"

We are now talking about our pub culture, that little area of human repose where - granted - we do unhealthy things like drink alcohol and smoke. And before the predictable mantra is hauled out yet again let me say that it is not sufficient simply to parrot-on about the supposed success of the Ireland model because the truth is that its success is simply a myth being perpetrated by the small junta who pushed this absurd piece of legislation through in the first place against massive national opposition.

I am of Irish descent and, since I visit my home regularly, I am here to tell you that the blanket smoking ban in public houses has caused almost universal derision among smokers and non-smokers alike. Aside from damaging the licensing trade it has caused a social polarisation that severely impedes conversation, interaction and general enjoyment and I should stress that these views are held equally by non-smokers.

The idea that it is the role of government to impose such draconian constraints on basic recreational freedoms - I say again, we are talking about pubs here, not hospital waiting rooms - has been greeted with incredulity by literally everyone with whom I have discussed the subject. I am not going to go into the absurd anomalies that have been created by this nonsensical piece of moral dictat, suffice to say that I have found the actions of Mr Ahearn's administration in imposing it to be an embarrassment to Ireland and the constitutional freedom of its people, to say nothing of such a blatant insult to democracy.

Let's just see this issue for what it is; a protection of peoples rights to recreational comfort. I hope Dr Elton wont insult the intelligence of people by playing the public health card here or else we had better get prepared for alcohol-free pubs and a closure of all junk food outlets. Let's concede instead that recreational comfort includes the right to clean air, not an unreasonable assertion assuming that since we live in a so-called democracy, the quest here is to take steps that are reasonable and therefore acceptable to all and are not born out of the blind obstinacy of a blinkered autocrat.

The problem is that this is where the tedious references to the "Irish model" meet their first flaw. You see the Irish government never set out to be reasonable.

During Dr Elton's trip to Ireland did the government there tell him about the detailed alternative proposals that had been tabled? Like the mandatory installation of sophisticated extraction systems in all licensed premises? Or why they dismissed those proposals out of hand? What about all the other reasonable measures put forward, such as providing designated internal smoking areas, even designated smoking/non-smoking pubs? Was Dr Elton told why they were not even considered? Did Dr Elton know that Ireland's health minister made it perfectly plain that this was his "baby" and it was going to be pushed through no matter what the people of Ireland thought.

Things that give people freedom of choice are usually held to be reasonable and are therefore supported, whereas when the state imposes poorly-reasoned nonsense onto its subjects it tends to encounter only resentment and resistance.

This is England and there has already been more than enough blatant disregard of public opinion here by those in government. Dr Elton may see himself as some marauding health-warrior sworn to kick the backsides of those odious smoking types but he would do well to remember that the right to choice is an integral part of our freedom.

Incidentally, I purposely left mentioning the smoking ban in New York city until last. Like it or not, America is in a state of crisis in terms of its basic individual freedoms, I have never been to a country where there are so many signs, officials and pamphlets telling you what you can't do. So I would take any comparison with the way things are done in the US these days with a pinch of salt.

Unfortunately Ireland has blindly taken its cue from them - they do that over there; ask any Irishman. As I have said, this is England. Do we really have to behave so stupidly when we are usually so good at being reasonable?


Bishops Road,