By David Young and Vivienne Clarke
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said the scenes of students at a street party in Limerick on Tuesday night were “a slap in the face to everyone sacrificing so much”.
Videos that appeared on social media showed a large crowd of revellers in the Castletroy area of the city.
Mr Harris branded the scenes that unfolded in Carysfort Avenue in the College Court student area as “completely unacceptable”.
The University of Limerick warned that “strong disciplinary action” would be taken against any student who breached coronavirus regulations.
Significant number of Gardaí attended a public order incident in Castletroy this evening. Three arrests and over 30 FPNs for breach of Covid Regulations. Investigations ongoing to establish organisers of street party. pic.twitter.com/xNE0AzBpDI
— Garda Info (@gardainfo) March 2, 2021
Two men in their 20s were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and another, also aged in his 20s, on suspicion of misuse of drugs.
Gardai also issued approximately 30 fixed payment notices for Covid-19 regulation breaches.
The Garda said a significant number of its units attended the scene and gardaí initially attempted to engage with the young people who had gathered.
A Garda statement said following “continued and orchestrated non-compliance” with public health regulations and failure to comply with Garda direction, gardaí intervened around 7.15pm.
“Gardaí have commenced an investigation into identifying the organisers of this event, and as with all breaches of the public health regulations a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions,” said a Garda statement.
Students like everyone have suffered a lot with #Covid19. The scenes in Limerick tonight are completely unacceptable & a slap in the face to everyone sacrificing so much. It does a real disservice to all students who abide by the rules day in and out. I have spoken to @UL tonight
— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 2, 2021
The Garda insisted it would continue to maintain a close and positive working relationship with those associated with the University of Limerick.
“Gardaí in Limerick will continue to provide high visibility patrols in the vicinity of the University of Limerick campus and surrounding residential areas to check compliance to Covid-19 regulations and keep the community safe,” the statement added.
“The Covid-19 pandemic remains a public health crisis and An Garda Síochana continues to appeal to all citizens to demonstrate personal and social responsibility to comply with public health guidelines and regulations in order to continue to save lives.”
Mr Harris tweeted: ”Students like everyone have suffered a lot with #Covid19. The scenes in Limerick tonight are completely unacceptable & a slap in the face to everyone sacrificing so much. It does a real disservice to all students who abide by the rules day in and out.”
This is just by my home in Casteltroy, Limerick! pic.twitter.com/ftqQEEMzph
— Mostafa Darwish (@eldarwish90) March 2, 2021
The minister said he has spoken to the University of Limerick.
He added: “My understanding is a full investigation is underway by both the Gardai and by the university authorities. Any student in breach of restrictions and regulations must & will face serious consequences.”
The university tweeted: “UL will take action with strong disciplinary measures against any student who has been found to have breached public health guidelines. Students at UL are subject to a Code of Conduct.”
Limerick Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell described the street party as unacceptable at any time, but particularly during the pandemic.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr O’Donnell said there had been “general mayhem” in the relatively confined area.
People who lived in the area just wanted the students “or whoever they are” to behave, especially at a time when there was a very infectious virus, he said.
It had been inappropriate to see such large numbers congregating, it was “irresponsible behaviour” in terms of public health and was “wholly unacceptable.”
Mr O’Donnell said that gardaí had responded in great numbers with three arrests and 30 fines imposed. “That’s not a normal situation.”
Not all students were heaving like this, the majority were studying from home, he said. “This particular incident cannot happen again.”
Local radio station Limerick Live 95 also spoke with a resident of the Castletroy estate who said he and his housemate called the gardaí.
The resident told the Limerick Today show with Joe Nash that such parties frequently happened at weekends, but the party on Tuesday commenced at 2.30pm with “10 to 20 students”. He had thought the party would stop after a few hours, but by 6.30pm the numbers had increased to “about 100” and he thought not all were UL students.
Some appeared to be as young as 15, he said. Many houses in the area were rented by students who usually held parties in their backyards, not on the street. He and his housemate had become concerned and called the gardaí who arrived at 7.32, he said.
Local Aontu representative Eric Nelligan told the same programme there was a lot of anger and shock in the area, but pointed out the party did not happen on college grounds, so he was not certain what action the college authorities could take.
Calls for the students involved to be expelled had been made, but he did not know if this was an option.
Mr Nelligan said he hoped the gardaí would “come down heavy” on the issue of student parties. He was concerned that some students could be impacted by the behaviour of others.
“People need to be sensible about this.”