Jess Casey: Partying crowds an unwelcome sight but students let down by government inaction

Jess Casey: Partying crowds an unwelcome sight but students let down by government inaction

The crowds present at Galway's Spanish Arch on Monday night. Picture: Cllr Eddie Hoare/Twitter

Crowds on the streets in Cork city and Galway are galling to see, particularly at a time when both counties are teetering on the threshold of further restrictions.

It is enraging enough just to see footage of house parties of any shape or size spread across social media, never mind it happening on your doorstep as it does for residents on the Magazine Road, who have been dealing with anti-social behaviour linked to house parties in the area for years.

But the actions of a few do not define the many students who are adhering to guidelines while coming to grips with a vastly different college experience, abruptly changed again at the last minute.  

Last Friday afternoon, as new cases of Covid-19 continued to rise, and long after many students had paid their accommodation deposits, on-campus college activities were effectively cancelled for the foreseeable future. Apart from institutions in Dublin, for whom this decision came a week earlier, the last-minute announcement upended months of careful planning by higher education institutes right on the cusp of a new semester.

It effectively cancelled the majority of the already limited face-to-face learning planned, while also ruining most of the efforts put into thinking of ways to get students to mix safely at a time when we are being asked to keep apart. It came right after the annual scramble to secure somewhere to live this semester, leaving many students with rent paid, and very little to do outside of their remote classes.

While they were encouraged not to travel to their university cities in light of the new restrictions, this came too late for many who would have already travelled.

While students face disciplinary action from their colleges for serious public health breaches, in Cork and Galway, people are still free to attend pubs and bars

Social distancing and wearing a mask in public is not enforceable by gardaí. There's no criminal penalty for organising or attending house parties or gathering on streets. Gardaí can simply "engage, educate and encourage" while moving people on. But while it might not be technically illegal, there's a massive responsibility on all of us to keep following public health guidelines, especially in counties facing the possibility of Level 3 restrictions. 

It's also worth pointing out that all students unions are actively discouraging students from attending parties.  

Notwithstanding the best efforts of universities, student reps, gardaí and local authorities, it is the responsibility of the minority of students themselves to exercise a bit of cop on with their behaviour, especially while the country is so weary from ongoing restrictions. They run the risk of ruining the rest of the semester, or even the year, for their peers. And at the moment gathering on a street for a sing-song after a few drinks could have potentially fatal consequences for someone. 

The Government has a role to play in all of this as well. The decision to switch to remote for all institutions should have been made earlier, giving everyone time to reassess their plans

Decisions moving forward also need to be made swiftly. If the current restrictions are to be extended, this needs to be communicated to students as soon as possible. Nobody wants to see what is happening in parts of the UK, where many students are currently quarantining, repeated here. 

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