Cowen smoked out by fan after lighting up at Croker
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night admitted to lighting up a cigarette in a non-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 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.
A government spokesman said the incident took place after the final whistle in the Dublin-Cork match 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 or the Health Service Executive, 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 breaches go before the courts.
The cigarette break came to light when a caller to RTE's 'Liveline', named 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 to 'Liveline' said. "If 81,000 people wanted to smoke next Sunday, I don't think it would be a pretty atmosphere."
He added that the Taoiseach should have had the "cop on" to know that you cannot smoke in many areas of Croke Park.
Last night, Croke Park officials were unclear about where exactly 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.
A GAA spokeswoman said Mr Cowen had been "beside a seated area" and in an "uncovered area".
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.
"Somebody pointed it out and he put it out straight away," a GAA spokeswoman said.
Depending on the size of the match crowd week-to-week, the number and location of smoking points can vary.
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.
Signs around the stadium direct fans to the designated smoking areas -- which are generally in uncovered areas and past the food and drinking points.
According to Croke Park's official no-smoking policy, patrons can be asked to leave the stadium for breaking the rules.
Generally, however, fans are simply informed of the no-smoking rules and asked to put out their cigarette -- without any follow-up action.
Croke Park bosses can use some of their 200 CCTV cameras around the stadium to monitor if fans are breaking their smoking rules.
Opposition parties and anti-smoking groups such as ASH last night declined to comment on the Croke Park incident.