BOOZE distribution company Drinks Inc has paid "several million pounds" to snap up a chain of more than a dozen licensed premises once owned by high-profile publican Harry Diamond in what it says is a "vote of confidence" for the trade in Northern Ireland.
As revealed in The Irish News in September, Mr Diamond put his portfolio of 14 hostelries - including a number in Belfast's 'Golden Mile' - on the market, along with the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown.
At the top of the property market the pubs were worth around £30 million but had gone on sale for £7m.
And although Drinks Inc wouldn't confirm what it paid, it is believed to be less than that asking price.
All the pubs included in the sale are tenant-occupied and remain open for business.
Among them are Belfast emporiums Fitzgerald's, the Rock Bar, Molly Maguire, the Devenish, Lily's and the Laurel Glen Roadhouse.
Other premises include the Point in Lisburn, Gowdy's At The Racecourse at the Maze, as well as pubs in Larne, Lisburn, Crossgar, Lurgan, Crumlin and Carrickfergus.
Drinks Inc was set up by owner Paul Camplisson in 2001 and has grown rapidly ever since (its annual turnover is more than £40m and it has enjoyed several years of double digit growth).
One of the largest and fastest growing independent drinks distributors in Ireland, it is highly regarded in the industry and has a comprehensive portfolio of more than 1,000 products covering the spirits, wines, beers and soft drinks categories.
Mr Camplisson told The Irish News yesterday: "Yes, we have entered into contracts for 14 pubs, a hotel and a non-licensed premises on Belfast's Dublin Road, and we expect to complete the deal within the next month.
"We see this as a massive vote of confidence in the pubs trade in Northern Ireland, which isn't doomed as some would have us believe.
"We've bought these pubs at a realistic price and fully intend to invest significantly in the trade going forward," he added.
"We aren't looking to run or operate these pubs.
We're a wholesaler and see this as a chance to use the pubs as a shop window to build our many specialist products and growing number of quality brands from premium producers."
Drinks Inc operates from 75,000 sq ft of bonded warehousing and 8,000 sq ft of office space off Boucher Road in Belfast.