Covid ‘shebeens’ all set to pour hundreds of pints when raided

Gardaí expect further raids of illegal drinking dens after more tip-offs from public

One of the premises in the midlands searched by gardaí. Photograph: An Garda Síochána

One of the premises in the midlands searched by gardaí. Photograph: An Garda Síochána

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So-called shebeens raided by the Garda were so well set up, they had nearly 400 pints in kegs for serving.

Two of the three premises raided had four kegs hooked up and ready to pull pints from, and gardaí now expect to raid other similar illegal drinking dens.

They also had between 15 and 20 bottles of spirits hung in wall brackets and attached to dispensers, with more bottles of spirits in stock as well as a variety of other drinks in bottles and cans.

Garda sources familiar with the searches, which were conducted as part of the Garda’s Operation Navigation, for Covid-19 enforcement, said the set-up of the shebeens – illegal drinking dens – was “way beyond having a bar or a man-cave in your house and bringing your mates” for drinks.

“Some of these were set up to look and feel like a regular bar, and the quantity of alcohol involved included hundreds of pints in full-sized pub kegs ready to go. This is not a load of lads piling into a man-cave,” said one Garda source.

The shebeens were found during searches at properties in counties Laois, Meath and Westmeath after gardaí received tip-offs from members of the public based on suspicions alcohol was being sold from the drinking dens.

Substantial quantities of alcohol were seized during the searches last Friday, along with beer taps, coolers, kegs, spirit dispensers and other barware. Gardaí have identified the suspects who they believe were profiting from the shebeens and, while no arrests were made, files were being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Warrants

Before carrying out the searches, gardaí had gathered intelligence on the premises and those behind them and applied for warrants empowering them to carry out last Friday’s searches, which were at private homes.

Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1962, it is a criminal offence to sell or supply alcohol to people at an “unlicensed drinking premises” or to supply alcohol to such premises.

The Act specifies that alcohol found stored on a premises and evidence alcohol had been “frequently” or “habitually” consumed there were effectively incriminating facts when prosecutions relating to shebeens were brought before the courts. Evidence that alcohol found stored had been brought to the premises more than 12 hours before being discovered was also regarded as incriminating under the Act.

Gardaí believe during the Covid-19 lockdown, when pubs closed, shebeens sprang up in a number of places across the country, though sources added the illegal premises were not new to the Republic and were not unique to the pandemic period.

“This is something we have always dealt with and we will always deal with it,” said one source, though he accepted there was evidence more shebeens had begun operating since the pandemic began.

Suspicions

“We have others under review and we’ve had information from the public with their suspicions about neighbours or others living near them,” said the same source, who added more searches of shebeens were likely.

However, other gardaí pointed out it was not illegal to install taps and kegs in any part of a private dwelling or in a so-called “man-cave” and to invite people there to drink. The offence arises when alcohol is sold without a licence or is supplied in a quantity or at a frequency in excess of what would arise in a “socialising among friends scenario”.

Gardaí have previously discovered shebeens whose customers had bought tickets to enter and drink as much as they wanted. Because the tickets had been sold and purchased in advance, and not on the shebeen premises, the customers and those running the shebeens believed they were sidestepping the law, though this was not the case.