Covid-19 restrictions are fuelling an underground alcohol industry on both sides of the Irish border. Lobby groups and organisations representing the hospitality and pub industry warned that uncontrolled environments for drinking are on the rise as pubs have been shut down across Ireland to curb the growing number of coronavirus infections. The sale of alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences is no longer allowed after 20:00.

About four shebeens, also known as illegal and unlicensed pubs, were raided by police in the Republic of Ireland since the beginning of October. Gardai searched the counties of Laois, Meath and Westmeath, where they seized substantial quantities of various alcoholic beverages, beer taps, kegs, coolers and spirit dispensers in premises believed to be operating as shebeens. They also shut down a drinking den in County Kildare, where the venue was completely outfitted with bar stools, tables, chairs and a 70-inch flat screen television as well as a pool table.

Vintner's Foundation Ireland chief executive Padraig Cribben told the BBC, "You can guarantee there is one operating at the very least in every county in Ireland. We know of one electoral ward where there are nine operating , we've informed the guards of as much."

Garda Deputy Commissioner John Tworney said that operating any unlicensed drinking space puts individuals at serious risk for exposure as well as possible infections of communities. The Commissioner reassured that Gardai officers will continue to take appropriate action in implementing pandemic restrictions.

On the other hand, police in Northern Ireland said it has not had "a serious issue" with illegal drinking dens. A spokesman for PSNI said, "However, where we become aware of their existence people should be assured that we will take action against those who flout the law."

Meanwhile, Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said there are other issues with the illegal sales of alcohol on the northern side of the border.

Neil points out one particular concern is the rise of "dial-a-drink" merchants on social media, who seem to effectively market and sell alcohol from the trunk of a car to anyone who calls for a purchase.

"This is doing nothing to discourage house parties and is promoting a dangerous game as people take the chance and flout the existing rules," he added.

Although the entire purpose of closing down pubs and curbing off-sales is to curtail the spread of the virus, more people seem to engage in drinking through easily accessible alcohol markets. Just like any product or service, if there is a vacuum hole there will always be players willing to fill in the gap.

Musicians play Irish traditional music in a pub in central Dublin. Frommer’s calls pubs “the social heart of every village and town” in Ireland. But the literary-minded should head to Dublin’s Davy Byrnes Pub for a hot whiskey to see where Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce’s 'Ulysses,' had his lunch. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton