Man questioned as ‘Polish poitín’ operation raided in Cork

Gardaí believe suspect was selling illicit spirits to homeless people on streets of city


A 36-year-old man’s flat has been raided as gardaí investigate the alleged sale of illegal alcohol to homeless people in Cork.

Customs officials and gardai raided the Polish man’s flat in the Grattan Hill area and seized 60 litres of the spirit.

During the course of the search, hundreds of bottles for packaging, about €5,000 in cash and a baton were seized.

Investigators are awaiting the results of tests to establish the concentration of the liquid, which was known as Polish poitín or Russian poitín among members of the local homeless community.

Gardaí first became aware of the issue in June when they noticed that some homeless people, who were drinking on the streets, passed out very quickly after consuming the clear liquid.

They spoke to members of the homeless community and identified the Polish national as a suspect.

Customs officials then began a surveillance operation on him.

The man, who has been living in Ireland for the past 10 years, allegedly sold bottles of illicit spirits to homeless people near Kent Railway Station and in other parts of the city.

Gardaí say they have yet to establish where the man was sourcing the alcohol to sell.

It is understood he was buying up to 20 cases of bottled water at a local supermarket every week and was then using the bottles to fill with spirits.

He was allegedly selling the 500ml bottles of spirits for €10 to €13 a bottle.

‘Deadly trade’

“We have still to establish the exact alcohol concentration of what he was selling but it had to be more potent than spirits being sold legally because these poor people seemed to be getting a bigger hit from it,” said a Garda source.

“We noticed early on that people who were drinking this illicit stuff seemed to pass out earlier and when there is no quality control, it can be very dangerous leading to coma or death - it really is a deadly trade,” said one garda source.

Gardaí estimate that the man was selling up to 240 litres of the illicit spirits every week in Cork.

Det Insp Danny Coholan of Anglesea Street Garda station told the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s Red FM that gardaí also believe the man confiscated social welfare cards belonging to his customers to ensure payment.

He said the man would meet his customers outside the GPO on Oliver Plunkett Street every Tuesday and Wednesday morning and give them their social welfare cards so they could collect their dole.

He would then take the money they owed him for the drink from their dole payments. They would return their social welfare cards to him and he would retain the cards until he met them again the next week.

The Department of Social Protection has begun an investigation into the man’s holding of other people’s social welfare cards while the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the HSE have begun an investigation into the sale of illegal spirits.

“This was a very mean crime - targeting vulnerable people with addiction issues and of course, he knew well that these people were unlikely to contact the gardai and make any complaint to us about what he was doing,” the Garda source said.

Gardaí did not arrest the suspect but he was interviewed under caution. Garda technical experts also carried out a forensic examination of the scene before confiscating the containers and bottles used in the illicit operation.

Caitriona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners welcomed the raid and said she hoped it would now make the public more mindful and report any incidents.

People who had been drinking the alcohol were “shadows of themselves”, she told RTÉ Radio, adding that “more deaths on the street can be avoided because of this.”