Officials across Ireland are warning about the emergence of an illicit alcohol industry, due to lockdown pub closures currently in force across the country.
Publicans’ representatives on both sides of the Irish border have blamed tight COVID-19 restrictions for so called ‘Shebeens’ – unlicensed pubs – serving alcohol to locals unchecked and under the radar.
In the Republic, four such premises have been raided by Gardaí since October, seizing large amounts of alcohol along with beer taps, coolers, kegs, spirit dispensers and other related items.
Recently, a shebeen was shut down in County Kildare which Gardaí said was fitted with a bar, stools, tables, chairs, a 70-inch flat-screen television and a pool table.
Public houses are shut across Ireland as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus and alcohol cannot be sold by supermarkets and off-licences after 8pm in NI. As a result, officials claim drinking in ‘uncontrolled environments’ is on the rise.
Speaking to BBC News NI, one official said anyone drinking in a shebeen is ‘exposing themselves to a serious risk of Covid-19’.
‘No doubt this is only the tip of the iceberg’ he added, ‘you can guarantee there is one operating at the very least in every county in Ireland.
Whilst in Northern Ireland police said illegal drinking dens had not been a serious issue during the pandemic, it warned action would be taken against those who flout the law. It has however reported a concerning rise in online, social media-based, ‘dial a drink’ sellers, who are essentially selling alcohol out of their car boots, to buyers regardless of age and circumstance.
The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, said this trend was, ‘doing nothing to discourage house parties and is promoting a dangerous game as people take the chance and flout the existing rules.’
Whilst closing pubs and curbing off sales was meant to slow the spread of the virus, Mr Neill said instead, ‘more people are drinking easily accessible alcohol in uncontrolled environments.’
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