Jess Casey: Covid adds an extra dimension to long-term problem of partying students 

Education Correspondent Jess Casey asks if universities should consider buying the privately rented houses where students live so that they then come under the same rules as students living on university campuses
Jess Casey: Covid adds an extra dimension to long-term problem of partying students 

A screengrab from the street party in Castletroy. Anti-social behavior has been a problem in housing estates where students outnumber residents long before the coronavirus came along.

A second major round of mass testing just finished up at the University of Limerick, in a bid to track a Covid-19 outbreak likely to shortly top 300 cases. Some students decided to mark the occasion with fireworks and Dexys Midnight Runners.

When the Examiner visited College Court, the housing estate beside the University of Limerick (UL) that set the stage for the raucous street partying, on Tuesday night, a garda checkpoint was firmly in place. A crew was checking every car on the way in and out, prompting more than a few sharp u-turns. 

The party had been dispersed, but forlorn groups could be seen walking around Castletroy, clutching two-litre bottles of Coke or 7-up or cans under their arms.

At a time when Limerick city east has twice the Covid-19 rate of the national average, Castletroy has become the busiest spot for policing in Limerick. 

The university paid for garda patrols around its surrounding housing estates last weekend, as the college has no authority on the comings and goings there, with the vast majority of houses privately rented by students. The suburb has no garda station, despite many years of campaigning

After two months of death and devastation, particularly in the Mid-West, those who attended on Tuesday night will not garner sympathy from the public. Nor will they find it from locals in the area, who are too afraid to use supermarkets at the moment. 

They will also have little sympathy from fellow students, many of whom are studying remotely in their childhood bedrooms.

Many will be wondering how such a party could unfold, despite extra policing, threats of disciplinary action by the university, and pleas from public health. 

A screengrab from the street party in Castletroy. At a time when Limerick city east has twice the Covid-19 rate of the national average, Castletroy has become the busiest spot for policing in Limerick. 

A screengrab from the street party in Castletroy. At a time when Limerick city east has twice the Covid-19 rate of the national average, Castletroy has become the busiest spot for policing in Limerick. 

UL has sworn swift disciplinary action will be taken. It'll have to be, given the level of public outrage. 

But long-term, College Court represents a deep-rooted legacy issue; A dependency on privately rented accommodation creating housing estates where students outnumber residents, leading to regular clashes over anti-social behaviour. This was a pattern long prior to Covid. 

We see it in Cork, with residents of Magazine Road and the surrounding areas, and in Galway. Anecdotally, many landlords in Castletroy say they have been burned financially from renting to groups who have little regard for property, and now little regard for public health. 

But it doesn't absolve them from their responsibilities, echoed in a ruling last summer from Cork District Court. So some universities face both a shortage of accommodation, while also having no real remit over the estates populated by its students. 

Landlords encounter regular issues renting; Should universities then consider purchasing such properties, bringing them under the same rules as on-campus accommodation? 

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