Student parties in Galway

 

Sir, – I support the current health restrictions and think that the hundreds of people who gathered at Spanish Arch in Galway recently acted irresponsibly.

Nonetheless, I am greatly concerned by your report “Gardaí to share locations of student house parties with NUI Galway authorities” (News, September 30th).

The report indicates that Galway City Council has arranged for An Garda Síochána to disclose addresses at which police have attended on suspicion that a breach of the public health restrictions is being committed to a local university. The express intention is that the university will then notify landlords who own those properties, and impose penalties “up to and including expulsion” on any students who reside there.

Imagine we substituted “employer” for “university” in these circumstances: the Garda indiscriminately disclose the addresses where they suspect breaches of the law are occurring to an employer.

If any of the latter’s employees reside at those addresses, they are fired. And for good measure, the employer then passes on the information to the employee’s landlord, who evicts the tenant.

Perhaps Galway City Council, and some of your readers, believe that being fired from your job or expelled from university, and evicted from your home, is a suitable and proportionate consequence of the kind of irresponsible and probably illegal behaviour observed at Spanish Arch this week.

However, it should be noted that there is no suggestion any individual has been or will be convicted of any criminal offence.

It seems curious that police should turn to universities and landlords to impose sanctions before they actually enforce the law themselves.

Second, I must have missed the section of the Universities Act 1997 that designated NUIG as a public health authority, and some kind of surveillance agent for private landlords.

Universities undoubtedly have a duty of care over their students’ welfare, but they do not act in loco parentis. Third-level students are adults – if they break the law, they run the risk of prosecution in accordance with that law. It has absolutely nothing to do with their university (or landlord, for that matter). If I am caught speeding in Dublin city, I do not expect to be hauled in front of the dean of discipline just because I happen to attend Trinity College Dublin.

Conversely, a breach of public health guidelines may also constitute a breach of the new NUIG code of conduct but it is not the role of the Garda­ to enforce codes of conduct (nor contracts of employment, nor private leases).

There is a bizarre and troubling blurring of the lines between public and private authority in this situation, and improper collusion between local authority, the police, university, and private landlords.

Meanwhile, we have a Senator calling for the Army to be deployed to the streets of Galway to “restore order” (News, September 29th).

Why not throw military authority into the mix? Should we get Revenue to impose tax penalties on these students too? Has An Bord Pleanála got something to say on the matter? And let’s tip off all the local shops and restaurants to keep an eye out for students, and make sure the banks know their customers have been up to no good so they can refuse them loans in future. Maybe gardaí­ should keep priests in the loop so they can refuse them communion.

We are all rightly concerned about public health and the risks social gatherings may pose, but let’s not lose sight of the proper role of State bodies (particularly the police) and private actors, and the limits on their respective authority. – Yours, etc,

ALAN EUSTACE,

School of Law,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.