Students and young people are being unfairly vilified for spreading Covid-19 with irresponsible behaviour, according to leading public health experts.
n Monday night, images emerged on social media of hundreds of students at Galway's Spanish Arch, with little to no social distancing in place. The photos went viral and sparked a national outcry, even leading Galway Senator Ollie Crowe to call for the Army to be drafted in to assist if future similar public order situations arise.
The images followed a slew of other photos and videos depicting young people partying in large groups, including a rave at the Oliver Bond complex in Dublin attended by over 100 youngsters.
Professor Anthony Staines of Dublin City University (DCU) said while the scenes of young people gathering in large groups should be condemned, young people are being unfairly singled out.
"There is a vision of wild 18-year-olds out on the tear, spreading Covid, that is unfair. They are just doing more visibly what is happening on a wider scale," he said.
"People in their 40s are meeting up with far too many people as well. But they are doing it in their homes behind closed doors.
"I am not trying to minimise the grief caused to the residents of Oliver Bond or those living in central Galway, but it is too easy to identify and blame young people because they are more visible. Young people have done stupid stuff since the Stone Age and will continue to do so."
The public health expert, from DCU's School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, pointed to recent findings that the virus was being increasingly spread in Co Louth through households and the spike in Co Waterford was linked to workplace transmission.
Prof Staines added that in his own area of Skerries, in Dublin, he was aware of three significant social gatherings during the summer, none of which was arranged by younger people.
"In Skerries there were three big gatherings I'm aware of. A 60th birthday party, a 35th wedding anniversary and a birthday party for a one-year-old - and I don't think the baby can be blamed for arranging the celebration," he said.
"And I do not believe the people in my neighbourhood are particularly depraved. I've had friends of mine invited to a dinner party in Foxrock when there is a group of 20 people there and they've walked out. I'm just pointing out it's not all about young people doing this. But we do need to support them and give a good example."
University College Cork (UCC) Professor Gerry Killeen echoed these views and added that young people are growing increasingly disillusioned during the pandemic.
"Young people are not the only problem, but something like what happened at Spanish Arch could be an atomic bomb, it had the potential to be a super-spreader. There are plenty of responsible young people, we are only seeing the ones acting irresponsibly," he said.
Prof Killeen, Research Chair at UCC in Applied Pathogen Ecology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said that young people in particular are "disillusioned" at the moment.
"Everyone is off-kilter and frustrated at the moment. But it's particularly tough on young people. If we lost the entire student population, who carried on with that sort of behaviour in Galway, that would be a serious problem.
"But that's not the reality. What we need is more younger people as part of this debate. We need more voices like Jedward."
Fianna Fáil's James O'Connor, aged 23 and the youngest TD in the Dáil, said the scenes depicting young people partying without adhering to social distancing were to be condemned.
"They were very wrong, it was very silly, but young people are being overly blamed for spreading Covid," he said.
"Those scenes do not represent any young people I know. The young people I know are all at home, alone or with their families. And their mental health is suffering."