Campaigners are warning that Ireland is moving into ‘dangerous territory’, in which underage drinkers have unprecedented access to alcohol.
Since the pandemic began, alcohol delivery and 24-hour ‘dial-a-drink’ services have increased, allowing underage drinkers to easily purchase alcohol without the need to prove their age and legal right to drink.
Even before the pandemic – globally, online sales of alcohol were predicted to be growing by 15 per cent every year. In Ireland, the Government’s Alcohol Advisory Group had ruled alcohol ordered by phone or text message as illegal.
But Alcohol Forum, the charity working against harmful drinking, said these are, ‘risky practices’ which continue to grow and require greater law enforcement.
Paula Leonard, the charity’s Head of Community Action, said such services are operating ‘outside any licensing regime’.
‘It’s an enforcement issue, and it will grow and grow rapidly if nothing is done,’ she added.
Illegal delivery services are said to be operating mainly in Dublin, although in provincial towns across the country, more operators have emerged since the crisis began.
The rise in such services coincides with other attempts to supply and purchase alcohol, amidst lockdown restrictions.
In November, it was reported that the closure of pubs across the country had resulted in a surge of ‘pop-up pubs’, known as ‘shebeens’ – serving alcohol to locals unchecked and under the radar.
One such establishment in County Kildare, now closed by Gardaí, was fitted with a bar, stools, tables, chairs, a 70-inch flat-screen TV and a pool table.
Illegal alcohol sellers are said to be buying large quantities of alcohol at licensed retailers and selling it on through home delivery at a significant mark up.
Many advertise on social media, targeting underage drinkers who regularly use such networking sites.
A poll carried out in May, found that almost one in 10 people who drink had used alcohol delivery services over the previous 12 months.
Three per cent paid for the alcohol over the phone, 2 per cent when it arrived at their home, and 1 per cent bought it from the boot of a car or paid a taxi driver to deliver it.
Ms Leonard said the figures, when extrapolated for the population, translates into ‘more than 100,000 breaches’ of existing regulations.
‘It is very dangerous territory. We are not trying to get rid of drink delivery services, but we want to see better regulation and a rational approach to doing it, because at the minute it is a higgledy-piggledy approach – it is all over the place.’
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