Cigar-loving Sons of St Patrick secure smoking ban exemption


A waiver for the Irish-American group’s March 17th dinner has sparked opposition and claims of cronyism from the anti-smoking lobby, writes LARA MARLOWE

SINCE WHEN is lighting up a stogie an integral part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations?

Washington DC city councillor Jack Evans, a member of the all-male Society of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, pushed emergency legislation through the council last week to exempt the Sons’ annual dinner from the smoking ban which the council passed in 2006.

More than 600 men attend the Friendly Sons of St Patrick dinner at the Capital Hilton. Past guests have included supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, House majority leader Steny Hoyer and the national security adviser James Jones.

Martin McDonald, the justice counsellor at the Irish Embassy, will give a short speech this year.

Evans sought a waiver to the smoking ban for two events: the Sons’ dinner and Fight for Children, a professional boxing fundraiser for poor children.

The one-time exception passed by a 10 to 3 vote last week, but Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree DC, declared victory when a hearing to consider a permanent exemption for the Friendly Sons of St Patrick was cancelled.

Now Washington mayor Adrian Fenty is under pressure from the anti-smoking lobby to veto the March 17th exception altogether.

“We just received the legislation and will take a close look at the ramifications of the Bill,” his spokeswoman said yesterday.

Bradbery said the 2006 smoking ban was passed “on the premise that workers should not have to chose between their health and a paycheck” , but that Evans’s waiver forced them to do so for two nights a year.

“It sends a terrible message to the residents of the district, because it says the council doesn’t take seriously the laws that it passes,” Bradbery said.

“If you’re in a club and you’ve got a friend on the council, you can get a break from the law. That’s cronyism.”

Neither Evans nor the Washington chapter of the Sons could be reached by phone, but Jackie McCarthy of the New York chapter said there would be no cigars at their dinner.

“I think it’s kind of strange that they would allow it,” she said. “Since the smoking ban came in, there’s absolutely no leniency in it.”

Bradbery said she thought the waiver was un-Irish.

“In Ireland you passed a smoke-free law years before the district,” she recalled.

“You guys don’t smoke cigars in Ireland, so invoking that tradition is ridiculous. The Friendly Sons can go outside if they want to smoke. That’s the law. They should abide by it.”