Galway pub defies smoking ban


A Galway publican has decided to challenge the workplace smoking ban by allowing customers to light up in designated areas.

Mr Ciarán Levanzin, joint owner of Fibber Magees on Eyre Square, says the premises will be out of business by September if he doesn't take some action.

His business has fallen dramatically since the ban came into force in March, he says, and he has also been affected by the landscaping work on Eyre Square.

"My business is down 63 per cent from April to June on the same period last year," Mr Levanzin told The Irish Times. "We did a survey here of our own customers, and 58 per cent of those polled stated that they were smokers, while 82 per cent of those polled said that they had no problem drinking in a smoking environment."

The publican said business had been affected by the Eyre Square work, which has caused major traffic disruption in Galway city centre and is set to do so for the rest of the year.

"We didn't even have a proper footpath outside for a period," he said. However, the major impact on custom had been the smoking ban, he emphasised.

Mr Levanzin said he took the decision to challenge the ban on Monday night of this week.

"There were only three or four customers in the place. I went out for a walk round the square, thought about it and came back and put the ashtrays out. I told those customers who were still there that they could light up.

"I got applause, and next thing text messages were flying and the place started filling up," he said. By closing time, he had about 70 customers on the premises.

The bar's co-owner, Mr Ronan Lawless, who owns four pubs in the Galway area, said he would consider taking similar measures in his other premises depending on sales trends.

He was prepared to risk fines of up to €3,000 for each breach of the smoking ban.

"Well, we're damned if we do or we're damned if we don't. I'm 13 years in this businesses and I'm not going to let them go down without a fight," he said. "I'll pay the fines and I'll appear in court with the other customers fined if that's the way things turn out."

Mr Lawless, who also owns the Foster Court Hotel and Fox's Bar in Galway city, the River Inn and Cooke's Thatch Bar in Newcastle, said many other bars were quietly flouting the ban in response to poor sales.

A spokeswoman for the Western Health Board confirmed yesterday that the board's environmental health officers were investigating reports that people had been smoking in a Galway city-centre pub.

She said the health officers would continue to implement the smoking ban legislation.

Mr Levanzin said he wasn't flouting the ban outright, but was allowing smoking in designated areas ventilated by an internal air-conditioning system.

"This is the compromise which the Vintners' Federation of Ireland had offered to the Minister for Health, Mr Martin, before he went ahead with the ban," he said. "We are not allowing smoking at the bar counters or where food is being served.

"If he \[the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern,\] and Micheál Martin are so confident that this ban has been working, why did Fianna Fáil have its worst outing at the polls in decades?" Mr Levanzin asked.

Some of the strongest opposition was voiced by vintners in Galway city and county before its introduction. A former Fianna Fáil councillor, Mr Val Hanley, resigned as chairman of the Western Health Board due to his opposition to the ban. Mr Hanley, a publican and prominent member of the VFI, lost his seat in the June local elections in Galway city.