The University of Limerick (UL) has said any of its students found to have attended a gathering in the Castletroy area of the city on Tuesday night "will face suspension, pending a full investigation, or possible expulsion".
UL confirmed its representatives met An Garda Síochána on Wednesday to discuss the public order incident.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, UL said it deplored the behaviour of a small minority of students it said were “living in the off-campus estates in private rented accommodation”.
“The University is conducting an investigation to identify any UL students who took part in the gathering, which represents a serious breach of both the public health restrictions and the institutional code of conduct.
“Students at UL are subject to a Code of Conduct. Any student found to have attended the gathering will face suspension, pending a full investigation, or possible expulsion,” the statement concluded.
Earlier, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said a party which saw dozens of young people gathering on a street in Limerick, contravening Covid-19 rules, was not acceptable.
Ms McEntee said public health guidelines were in place to keep people safe and that the party which took place on Tuesday should not have happened.
Several people were arrested after gardaí responded to reports that a large number of people had gathered at Carysfort Avenue, College Court, near the UL campus.
Ms McEntee urged students to co-operate with public health rules. “I understand this is very difficult, but we cannot see scenes like last night happening again. It’s very disappointing for the people who live in that area, but also for everybody else who has been trying so hard over the past year.”
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that what had happened in Castletroy was "beyond acceptance" and was a slap in the face to people who were ill in hospital and to frontline workers trying to save lives.
Most students were abiding by the public health restrictions, he told Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live show, and he would hate for them to be “tarred with the same brush” as those who were involved with the incident on Tuesday.
The party was “an attack on our national effort”, he added.
The incident was being taken “extraordinarily seriously” by the gardaí and the college authorities and more actions would follow, he warned, “up to and including expulsion.”
University management met on Wednesday morning to discuss the situation.
Gardaí said students gathered in the area at around 6pm and were still being cleared after 9pm.
“Garda members attempted to engage with the gathered individuals. Following continued and orchestrated non-compliance with public health regulations and failing to comply with directions from An Garda Síochána, gardaí were forced to intervene at approximately 7.15pm,” a statement said.
An investigation is now under way into who organised the event, an offence under pandemic laws, and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
UL president Kerstin Mey said the university would "take action with strong disciplinary measures" against any student who had been found to have breached public health guidelines. "Students at UL are subject to a code of conduct," Prof Mey said.
She said on-the-spot fines for students found in breach of the regulations included a “€100 fine for leaving home without a reasonable excuse: €500 fine to anyone arranging a gathering; and €150 fines to anyone attending a house party”.
Videos from the party showed people dancing in a housing estate, lighting fireworks and being chased by gardaí.
One resident said restrictions were being widely ignored during what would normally be college Rag week.
“It’s really dangerous out there. There are hundreds of people at different parties tonight,” the person said. “Residents are tormented.”
A GP based in the Castletroy area in Limerick said residents had stopped using local shops and the post office because they were afraid of catching Covid-19 from young people who are not observing public health restrictions.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Dr Yvonne Williams said that some residents were driving to Nenagh, Co Tipperary, to do their shopping because they did not feel it was safe to shop in the Castletroy area.
“On that road you have a Millford Hospice, a nursing home, linked to that hospice, there was another nursing home across the road from it, a local shop, the local post office – residents in that area, in particular older people in that area – they stopped using their local shop, they’re afraid to go to their local post office.
“The workers going into those nursing homes and hospices can’t use those local services because they’re so afraid of the students and the young people in that area who aren’t following the guidelines and afraid that they’re going to catch Covid.
Dr Williams called on the gardaí and the university to do more to make that area safe for the people living there. “Some of the people congregating, it’s not their community, my concern is that with Mother’s Day coming up some of these people will go home for the first time since Christmas for that weekend and are they going to bring something like Covid back to communities if they have been partying and mixing without masks.”
One Castletroy resident told the Limerick Today show with Joe Nash on Wednesday morning 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.
Separately, a nurse who lives in the general vicinity of UL called for round-the-clock Garda patrols, as well as CCTV to be installed, as house parties were “out of control”.
“It’s shocking now, they have broken glass in houses, there was a fire in a house, there are holes in the walls of houses, basically the houses are being thrashed,” said the nurse, who did not want to be identified.
Meanwhile, a Castletroy landlord said, they, along with others renting out houses to students in the vicinity of UL were “afraid” to approach the properties during similar periods of unrest.
“Some of the residents are very frightened. It’s getting progressively worse, I’ve absolutely seen it myself.”
They claimed students danced on roofs, destroyed properties, urinated on the street and took drink and drugs, “all while the country is suffering the economic and health devastation of Covid-19”.
“I am horrified at the ongoing parties going on. Will someone have to get hurt or fall off a roof for this madness to stop,” they said.
“They are even calling Careysfort Avenue, College Court, ‘The Gaza Strip’, an indication of the volatile and lawless zone it has become.”
Limerick Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell described the street party as unacceptable at any time, but particularly during the pandemic.
Also speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr O’Donnell said there had been “general mayhem” in the relatively confined area.
Anthony Staines, professor in health systems at Dublin City University, said people should not berate young people who socialise outdoors.
“Can we stop beating up on young people who socialise out of doors? It’s not desirable, but it’s relatively low risk. Older people meeting indoors are a much higher risk. @WeCanBeZero but we need to do it together,” he tweeted.