Brian Cowen could face court for lighting up at GAA match
Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night admitted to lighting up a cigarette in an undesignated smoking area after a sell-out match in Croke Park.
But he is unlikely to face any further questions, reprimands or fines unless an official complaint is lodged and health inspectors decide to pursue the issue the whole way to the courts.
Mr Cowen was attending the Dublin versus Cork All-Ireland football semi-final on Sunday when he was instructed to put out a cigarette he had just lit up.
An Irish government spokesman said the incident took place after the final whistle when fans would still have been filtering out of the stadium.
The spokesman said Mr Cowen had made a “genuine mistake” in lighting a cigarette in what was not a designated smoking area.
If an official complaint were to be lodged with the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC) or the Health Service Executive (HSE), enforcement officers would have to visit Croke Park and investigate if the particular area where smoking took place falls under the legal definition of an “exempted area”.
That would mark the start of a lengthy legal process in which inspectors would have to build a body of evidence on the incident.
Often, however, companies and workplaces are simply given stern warnings after complaints are made. They are also subjected to follow-up inspections.
More serious and repeated breaches go before the courts.
The cigarette break came to light when a caller to RTE's Liveline called Brian said he had to do a “double take” when he was taking photos after the match and spotted the Taoiseach smoking.
“He (Mr Cowen) knew the laws. I think he thinks he's above the law,” the caller said. “If 81,000 people wanted to smoke next Sunday, I don't think it would be a pretty atmosphere.”
Last night, Croke Park officials were unclear about where the Taoiseach was when told he was not in a designated smoking area.
The GAA headquarters was also unable to say if it was a steward or a member of the public who approached Mr Cowen and told him to put out the cigarette.
But it is certain he was not in the Ard Comhairle area where dignitaries sit, nor was he seated alongside any of the 80,000 fans who packed into Croke Park for the sell-out performance in which Cork triumphed by a single point.
Despite being in an open area, where smoking might normally be permissible, Mr Cowen was not in one of the places officially designated for smokers on Sunday.
Mr Cowen, who is believed to be an occasional smoker, is an avid GAA fan and regularly attends matches at home in Offaly and in Croke Park.
The stadium operates a strict no-smoking policy, except in designated areas. Back in 2004, Croke Park became the first Irish non-smoking stadium.