THE current debate on the smoking ban in pubs is hugely depressing. It has degenerated into a silly argument about jobs when the fundamental question is about freedom.
Come next January 1st it will be illegal for smokers to socialise in Ireland. To date, there has been no civil rights opposition to this.
Once again the state is stepping in to deny people personal control over their lives. Once again, Irish people are adopting their carpet role – just something to be walked over. There’s probably no extension of State control that will jerk Irish people out of their political sleep.
This exercise in control-freakery has been slipped in (with the usual dishonesty) under the pretext of protecting workers. Pubs are now deemed to be places of work and the supposed rights of workers to be protected is now more important than the original purpose of the pub.
The central issue here is choice. I readily admit that non-smokers have very little choice under the present situation. It is practically impossible to choose a non-smoking pub to socialise in at the moment.
But that situation is a result of the present licensing laws. The choice of pubs across the board is very poor. I, for example, would like to go for a drink in a bar with no TV and no music. To date I can’t find one.
If the licensing laws were changed so that anyone could open a pub, then new publicans would be forced to offer a range of options in order to attract customers. Over time, non-smoking pubs would gain in popularity, proportionate to the demand for them.
But instead of increasing choice, the Government opted to move from situation of little-choice to one of no-choice.
To my mind the move is in breach of a fundamental principle. Each individual is entitled to sole authority over their own lives. If someone wishes to smoke cigarettes, or cannabis, or heroin then that is their sole prerogative. If the State wishes to interfere then it must show a social reason for doing so. The State must prove that other people are injured by that individual’s activities. Whether the activity is injurious to the individual is not the business of the State.
This is why people should not have accepted the seat-belt or motorcycle helmet laws. Because they set a very dangerous precedent.
The State can now interfere with the personal decision making of an individual even where no other person is at risk. This has disastrous consequences for personal liberty.
Irish people seemed to have consoled themselves with the idea that even where a law is brought in, it will not be implemented.
The recent news that drivers caught without a seatbelt will now face penalty points shows that once ground is conceded to the safety-nazis, they will demand more and more. A driver making a conscious and informed decision not to wear a seat belt can now be deprived of their driving licence even where no-one else is at risk.
People should not give up freedom so easily. If they do, some day there will be none left.