In a head-scratching move Ireland’s Junior Minister for Health, Finian McGrath, who serves in the cabinet, has called for smoking to be allowed in designated areas in pubs and restaurants because smokers are hopelessly addicted.

“We smokers have an addiction,’’ he said in an interview in the Sunday Business Post. “Every day, I try to give them up or reduce the number I smoke and, so far, I have not succeeded.’’

McGrath, a member of the Independent Alliance, also stated that non-smokers needed to be more understanding of smokers who, like him, had smoked heavily for years.

“Personally I feel smokers can be soft targets,’’ he added. “I can understand people’s concerns about the health implications, but the reality is a significant number of us smoke.’’

McGrath said his opinion was a "private, personal view" and other countries allowed designated areas smoking. "I was in Portugal with the Justice Committee two years ago and I saw it first hand," he said.

"I was in Germany a couple of years ago and - I think it was Frankfurt - they had a similar position and I saw it working."

“I think it would be no harm if we had a national debate on this,’’ he said also referring to the need to warn young people about smoking. He added that cigarette smuggling gangs were the main beneficiaries when prices are raised on the products.

Ireland banned smoking in pubs and restaurants in 2004 and was the first country to do so.

McGrath, who represents a Dublin constituency, had begun as a controversial figure in the recently formed government. After assuming power he said he hadn't paid his water bill in protest against government price hikes. After he was informed he was breaking the law he relented and paid the bill.

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