Irish test purchase scheme deemed ‘hare-brained’

A plan to crack down on under-age drink sales in the Irish Republic by recruiting teams of teenagers to carry out test purchases at off-licences and supermarkets has been described as “hare-brained”.

The initiative has been proposed by a government-appointed committee and is backed by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.

As part of its investigation the team visited Liverpool, where a similar scheme is in operation, to study how it operated on the ground and the training given to the teenagers involved.

The minister warned that the scheme “does not seek to trap the unwary licensee but to target those suspected of flouting the law”. Repeat offenders would face E5,000 fines and a 30-day closure order. Police are already drawing up a list of supermarkets and off-licences to be targeted.

However, the main Irish opposition party, Fine Gael, has said it is “totally opposed” to the plan, while some individual politicians have denounced it as “a sting operation that will criminalise licensees”.

Fine Gael’s justice spokesman Alan Shatter said using boys and girls aged 15 to 17 in this way was “exploitative and amounts almost to child abuse”. It took no account of the risks they faced from yobs for taking part in such a scheme, or the trauma of having to testify against licensees in court, he said. He called the scheme “hare-brained and bizarre” and urged the minister to withdraw it.

But Ahern said it was going ahead and that he was considering extending it to home deliveries. A recent Irish current affairs TV programme purported to show two supermarkets – Tesco and Superquinn – and an off-licence delivering alcohol to under-age drinkers at their homes.