Gardaí made three arrests after dozens of people gathered in College Court in the Castletroy area of Limerick City to party and set off fireworks this evening.
Videos online show flares and fireworks being set off amongst large groups of people who gathered to drink this evening in the estate predominantly occupied by UL students.
Other videos also show large groups running from Garda cars who attended the scene to break up the crowds.
The videos show people singing and chanting with music being played on speakers in the background.
Limerick currently has the fourth-highest incidence of Covid-19 in the country and Public Health MidWest have recently issued concerns about the spread of coronavirus in housing estates in the city.
A recent outbreak of the virus in the UL community saw “more than 200 cases” since early January, with “the majority of cases recorded in the past two to three weeks,” a Public Health Midwest spokesperson said last week.
Mass testing on campus was initiated following this outbreak.
Authorities in the University of Limerick are set to meet early on Wednesday to see if there are grounds to expel some of those involved in the street party.
In a statement on Twitter, they said they “will take action with strong disciplinary measures against any student who has been found to have breached public health guidelines.”
The Irish Independent understand gardaí made a small number of arrests in the estate which is mainly populated by students.
Around 30 fines were also issued for breaches of Covid 19 regulations.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris told the Irish Independent that the scenes were “completely unacceptable” and “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,” he said.
Mr Harris added that he expects separate investigations to be carried out by An Garda Siochana and UL.
“Any student in breach of restrictions and regulations must and will face serious consequences,” he said.
Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell said the behaviour tonight in College Court was “totally reprehensible”.
“Like everyone else, students have been impacted by Covid-19, but, this was entirely unsafe, destructive & disrespectful to local residents and the general public.
“I have met with Gardai on site & they are patrolling the entire area around UL overnight Gardai have made arrests and issued fines & they are inspecting CCTV footage as part of an investigation UL are meeting early tomorrow morning to decide on actions to take,” Mr O’Donnell said.
Local Green Party Councillor Seán Hartigan was at the scene earlier and said there were numerous Garda cars in College Court and said a number of vehicles were being towed.
Cllr Hartigan said the “party started at 2pm” as he saw large groups of students carrying crates of beer from the local off-license.
Mr Hartigan said a staff member reported that the off-license had sold a lot of alcohol earlier today.
Mr Hartigan said he had planned to raise the issues of partying and social gatherings among students in the area at a Joint Policing Committee tomorrow as the area has a “serious issue with students partying”.
“There were a lot of parties going on and people drinking outside houses earlier today. I could see it taking off. There is a serious issue with students in the Castletroy area. Most of them have no business being there, they’re not in college. They’re travelling up and down the country every weekend.
“There is a huge incidence of Covid in there [College Court],” Mr Hartigan said.
Meanwhile, Limerick City Councillor Elena Secas said although she understands many students need to live in the city for better broadband and studying conditions, the behaviour last night in Castletroy was unacceptable.
“It is very unfortunate, I was very sad to see what happened last night- I don’t think that’s acceptable. It’s so disheartening for the local community and local residents, it shouldn’t have happened,” she said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
When asked if she believes these students should be expelled, she said: “UL say that all students at UL are subject to code of conduct and they will take action with strong disciplinary measures.
“But, I think what the UL president should do now is to communicate with all students that zero tolerance will apply, starting from today.
“They need to establish some strict rules and those rules must be enforced, otherwise I don’t see how they will discourage such behaviour in the future.”
The Labour Councillor said she doesn’t believe on-campus accommodation should have been closed off to students, as many don’t have the option of studying from home and off-campus accommodation would still be available.
“As far as I know UL asked students not to travel to Limerick if their programmes were all online but government said travelling for education was essential during this lockdown,” she said.
“So, many students have travelled to live in Limerick in off-campus accommodation and the reason for that would be better broadband connectivity and better studying conditions.
“I understand it is very hard for students and they should be accommodated but they have to understand that they have a responsibility to play their role in the pandemic and be respectful of their local community.”