Delay to health/tobacco control legislation

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to request one of the health Ministers to come into the House today to comment on the discrepancy in the way health-related legislation is dealt with across the two sovereign jurisdictions on either side of the Irish Sea.

Last night the British House of Commons passed an amendment to a Bill to ban smoking in cars when children are present. This occurred within one month of it first seeing the light of day in the House of Lords as an Opposition amendment to a government Bill on child welfare. The hurdles facing that Bill over one month were significant. In the first instance, there was a real chance there would be use of the Whip by the UK Government parties against it, but this was not done in both Houses. There was also widespread recognition that there was the potential influence of the tobacco lobby in Downing Street which had incredibly adopted a position of opposition to a slam-dunk public health measure. Despite all of this, the Whips were lifted and the Bill was passed in both Houses and will become law within one month. This should be contrasted with the position here where the well thought-out and well crafted Protection of Children’s Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill, into which public health professionals had an input and which sparked widespread debate, has been bunged up for two years in the bureaucracies of the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office.

If it had been given any degree of priority, I do not find it credible that there was not the competence within these two great organs of State to ensure this relatively simple Bill would have been passed into law. It was originally our intent to have it on the Statute Book two summers ago.
I remind Members that British public health authorities brought out figures yesterday, estimating that 140,000 children per day were subject to tobacco smoke in cars. Using a rough calculation, that would mean that 7,000 children per day are exposed here. I am despondent and cannot understand why a Bill as simple as this has taken so long. It would give the Government its first anti-smoking legislation three years into its term, led by a campaigning anti-smoking Minister for Health whose forthcoming Bill on plain packaging for tobacco products I support enthusiastically. I will be seeking a division on my proposed amendment to the Order of Business.

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