Black market Guinness and garda raids: Hundreds of illegal shebeens believed to be serving punters every day
5th April 2021
CRIMINAL GANGS HAVE turned their attention to smuggling kegs of beer into Ireland to feed the demand in illegal shebeens, The Journal has learned. © Garda Press Office A shebeen which was shut down in Dun Laoghaire Dublin earlier this year.
Shebeens have been popping up across Ireland in the last 14 months as the nation dealt with the effects of Covid-19. Many places raided by officers have been operating as fully working pubs with kegs, beer fridges and spirits all set up in a professional manner.
Some even had dartboards, fully functioning toilets as well as multiple TV screens.
Gardaí, as part of Operation Navigation, have been attempting to curb the number of shebeens in operation around the country.
While these pseudo-pubs have been found in operation in cities in Dublin and Cork, the vast majority of the watering holes were in rural areas, far from the nearest garda station.
However, this has not stopped many successful raids by gardaí. Shebeens have been successfully shut down in many counties, including Offaly, Limerick, Louth, Cavan, Galway and Sligo.
According to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, there could be hundreds of them dotted across the country.
Black market beer
There is currently a Guinness shortage across the country. Diageo had stopped producing it at St James’ Gate due to the dramatic decrease in demand for kegs from pubs, most of which have been closed for long periods of time.
However, this shortage has fostered a growing black market for the black stuff. Both vintners and gardaí suspect that the illicit stout is being brought across the border from the North for Irish shebeens.
There have been anecdotal reports from people with home bars experiencing shortages in kegs and gas cylinders, which enable the pour of the drink.
Alan Stapleton has had a home bar for several years. The Dubliner explained what happened when he tried to recently source a replacement Guinness keg.
“I have had the home bar for years and would have Guinness and Heineken in the kegs. It was only the last while that things dried up, now they’re like hen’s teeth.
“The keg I have sitting in the house at the moment, I bought that for €300 (kegs typically retail at €230) and its sell-by was off by a few weeks. This is what is happening. I’ll be waiting a while before I top up again.”
Gardaí believe that stock that was earmarked for hotels in the North and Britain is being brought across to Ireland as sellers know they can charge a higher price for the alcohol.
However, the sellers have to try to get past rigid rules already in place by suppliers such as Diageo.
For example, Diageo Ireland only sells Guinness kegs to operators, whether that is wholesalers or retailers, with the relevant alcohol licences in place. It does not sell directly to individuals. It also has strong anti-fraud processes in place to ensure that all accounts it services are legitimate.
Last Monday, Revenue officers seized beer worth €66,000 while searching an Irish registered truck at Rosslare Europort.
The truck disembarked from Pembroke in Wales. It contained nearly 17,000 litres of beer. The kegs were seized following routine profiling that aimed to identify alcohol products that might be diverted on to the market without payment of tax and duties.
Security sources told The Journal that what was caught was a small percentage of what they expect is getting into the country.
However, gardaí believe that criminal gangs have turned their attention to keg smuggling in recent months for several reasons, the most prescient being that if caught with the alcohol, the penalties are relatively low when compared to drugs.
Head of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) Padraig Cribben said there are hundreds of shebeens in operation across the country. He said that the main suppliers had done their part by stopping production and delivery.
However, Cribben said it is down to gardaí to target and break up shebeens which are flagrantly breaking the law.
“The major suppliers have stopped delivery of kegs which has obviously helped to dry up supply but these kinds of people have no problem getting supplies. The white van system, as I call it, is in full swing. It’s all coming across the border or whatever. They tend to be able to get supplies in one shape or form.”
One element that Cribben said was important yet often gets overlooked is the mishandling of gas and the potential problems this can cause.
“The other thing with the danger of shebeens is the handling of gas by people not used to it. Therein lies a bigger problem. There are gas suppliers still prepared to supply other areas with gas and that is a real problem.”
While Cribben said he understands that the pub is an outlet for many people’s mental health, especially in rural areas, he said attending these makeshift pubs is only prolonging the wait for their locals to reopen.
“We understand people are missing what they had in the traditional pub but that doesn’t allow any of us to break the law. In these places, one thing you can be sure there is no social distancing, no compliance with health advice. If that feeds into increasing levels of infection it also feeds into delays in having legitimate pubs reopen. They’re only hurting themselves,” Cribben added.
For gardaí, the hunt to shut down shebeens will continue until the pubs reopen. As one source told The Journal: “It’s a cat and mouse game. When one is shut, another one or two pop up.”
Diageo was contacted for comment but did not wish to include a statement.