People have been defying the law, even lighting up in front of photographers to make the front pages of national newspapers. Why are the gardaí not enforcing that law? The Minister for Justice indicated that the gardaí were never going to enforce the smoking ban. It is supposedly the role of the health boards.
Is that what we need? Another level of bureaucracy, the Department of Health fag police? More jobs for the boys!
People should not wonder about costs when hack politicians, without qualifications, are appointed to health boards to run the health system with all its bureaucratic inefficiencies. Like so many other boards, these hacks are appointed so that they can claim travelling expenses. We are paying professional travellers to screw up the system. Fantastic!
Some publicans seemed to think that if enough of them defy the law, the Government would back down and scrap the smoking ban. If the Government capitulates, the ultimate public reaction could make the publicans' protest seem milder than a nuns' picnic. Scrapping the ban would be tantamount to saying the Government is unable to ensure the enforcement of our laws and incapable of protecting the great majority of the people. The health and rights of people would be sacrificed on the altar of the vintners' greed, and this Government's tottering claim to any vestiges of respect would go up in a puff of smoke.
Surely there are grounds for a compromise in which a designated room, properly ventilated, could be set aside where people could bring their drinks to have a smoke. The publicans are undoubtedly hurting, but this is their own fault in many cases, because they have been charging so much.
Many smokers have suddenly found that it is much cheaper to go to an off-licence and drink at home. Jusctice Minister Michael McDowell announced on Thursday that he was prepared to give new powers to the gardaí to deal with publicans who break the law in relation to the smoking ban. Why was this not a matter for the gardaí in the first place?
Fianna Fáil's promise to introduce zero tolerance in 1997 was prompted by the phenomenal success of the policy in New York City while William Bratton was police commissioner from 1994 to 1996. He argued that if the police tackled the smallest and least significant crimes with determination, it would lead to a decline in other crimes. One of the more highly-publicised incidents was the fining of a grandmother for depositing noxious liquids in a public place after her four-year-old grandson relieved himself behind a bush in Central Park.
It seemed ludicrous to connect a child relieving himself behind a bush with major crime, but while Bratton was commissioner, subway crime was cut by almost 80% and street crime was down by more than half. Murders were cut by 40% and burglary by a quarter. There were 30% fewer robberies and 40% fewer shootings recorded in just two years.
John O'Donoghue was the main proponent of the zero-tolerance promise in the Fianna Fáil platform of 1997. Ironically, Denis Foley, his colleague in Kerry North, also campaigned heavily on the same theme even while he was personally hoping that he was not an investor in Ansbacher. Denis circulated a letter as part of his successful campaign for re-election. part of it read as follows:
"Fianna Fáil will encourage a policy of zero tolerance. This means that:
No crime, no matter how small, is insignificant,
Certain crimes will not be overlooked because they are not important,
Tolerance of small crimes creates a climate where big crimes flourish,
There is a certain connection between less and more serious crimes,
Toleration of lesser crimes send [sic] the wrong signal to the average law abiding citizen that the gardaí and the Government are ineffective."
Those arguments are as true today as they were then. But did Fianna Fáil ever believed in that promise, or was it just as phony as the party's lies during the last general election campaign in declaring that no cutback were planned, secret or otherwise? That set the tone, in turn, for Lorcan Allen's bogus letters purportedly signed by the Taoiseach calling on constituents for support in the recent local elections.
OF COURSE, it is not the first time that controversy has arisen over Bertie Ahern's signature. He signed the blank checks that were later used to divert funds from the party leader's fund to the private account of Charles J Haughey.
Fianna Fáil never even asked for that money back and Lorcan Allen has received little more than a slap on the wrist in having his virtual resignation accepted by the national executive. He has been essentially rewarded by being suspended from Fianna Fáil for a year for using Bertie's signature to engage in a blatant electoral deception that was a further affront to the democratic process.
"It is perhaps, inevitably, a matter for the garda," Tánaiste Mary Harney told the Dáil recently.
There should be no "perhaps" about it. Serious allegations have been made on RTÉ that Allen "fraudulently used the Taoiseach's signature". This should be investigated by the gardaí without waiting for an invitation to do so.
Law enforcement should be a police matter, not a political consideration. There should be no question of the gardaí waiting for Fianna Fáil to make a formal complaint before investigating the matter. This amounts to suggesting that Fianna Fáil has the right to determine the criminal law in relation to its own operations. That is a recipe not only for political corruption, but also for ultimate disaster.
It also brings us to another political promise the one made by Michael McDowell at the last general election. He asked for the electorate to deny Fianna Fáil an overall majority so that the Progressive Democrats could keep the FFers honest.
It was a political masterstroke.
After all, McDowell had credentials going back to Charlie Haughey's last government when, as chairman of the PDs, he acted as the conscience of the Dáil. Even though he was operating from outside Leinster House, having lost his seat in 1989, he played a major role in forcing the dismissal of Tánaiste Brian Lenihan, the withdrawal of James McDaid's nomination as Minister for Justice, and the ultimate coup de grace, forcing the resignation of Charles J Haughey as Taoiseach. But now we do not hear so much as a squeak from him about the naked preferment by senior ministers in relation to their own constituencies.
This is the spoils system gone bananas, with certain ministers being allowed to run riot. Has Michael McDowell lost his bottle? Fianna Fáil is apparently being accorded the right to determine the criminal law in relation to its own activities.
Far from zero tolerance, this looks like a policy of total tolerance of Fianna Fáil and all the shenanigans they get up to.