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Poitin exporter irked by entry to market of Guinness

Monday March 17, 1997

THE man who has the distinction of being Ireland's only legal poitin maker is disappointed that a multinational company has been given a licence to distil it for the home market.

Mr Oliver Dillon, who runs a cottage industry near Bunratty Castle in Co Clare, told The Irish Times he was granted permission in 1989 to distil poitin for the export market and for duty-free outlets at home.

"At the time," Mr Dillon said, "I also made an application to sell it on the home market to tourist outlets, as I was looking at it as a tourist-oriented product. The condition placed on me to sell to the export market only still holds true for me today and I was more than surprised that the Revenue Commissioners had changed their policy without contacting me," he added.

Mr Dillon, a native of Cappaghmore, Co Limerick, at the edge of the Slievefelim hills, an area once noted for poitin-making, said that the Revenue Commissioners told him by letter in April 1995 that they were concerned about the illicit connotations of poitin.

"I want to know now why all of a sudden there is a change of heart," he said. "I got a faxed letter from the Revenue Commissioners requesting me to make an application in writing to sell poitin on the home market. I have applied several times and instead they should have been writing to me stating that they were withdrawing the condition imposed."

He added: "What has aggravated me here is that I have met Ministers and asked them to change the rules. I believe we have something sinister here. "This so-called Government openness and transparency doesn't exist in this situation," Mr Dillon said, "and I am now asking the Minister for Enterprise to make a public statement. I am a small industry and there seems to be an attitude problem towards us. I am concerned that a multinational company has come into the market place before me."

Mr Dillon runs the Bunratty mead and liqueur company Bunratty Potcheen, and exports to the US, the UK, Norway, Belgium, France and Japan. His poitin is 90 per cent proof for the US market and 80 per cent proof for Europe and the UK. The company also makes mend for "medieval banquets" in castles in the Shannon region.

Last week United Distillers, the spirits division of Guinness PLC, announced that it is to spend £5 million on the development of its "Hackler Poitin".

Production for the Irish market has been approved by the Revenue Commissioners and Hackler will later be marketed in Britain, the US and Australia. It will be manufactured at the Cooley Distillery in Co Louth.

© The Irish Times