There will be consequences, warned Justice Minister Helen McEntee as she scolded a group of college students who had the audacity to drink too much and act boisterous at a now well-publicised street party in Limerick.
Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the party was “completely unacceptable” and a “slap in the face to everyone sacrificing so much”. Minister of State Niall Collins also weighed in, branding the scenes in College Court as “beyond shocking”.
Meanwhile, University of Limerick Professor Kerstin Mey said students found to have broken their code of conduct will face the “full rigour of our disciplinary process including temporary suspension and possible expulsion”.
It goes without saying that the street party should not have happened in the midst of a global pandemic and it was a breach of public health rules. Your heart would also go out to the local residents who have to put up with that sort of behaviour on their doorstep on a weekly basis.
But the political rhetoric towards students being students was over the top. Especially given the more grievous breaches of restrictions which do not receive a passing comment from our esteemed leaders. Gardaí broke up a birthday party of more than 100 people in a machinery shed in Bantry, Co Cork, last month and there were no political tweets.
Unsurprisingly, Sinn Féin didn’t go in two-footed on the students. Why would they, when students are a significant part of their voter base? The Green Party didn’t really get involved in the outrage over the antics in Limerick, either.
So the finger wagging was left to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Fine Gael are popular among young voters – the most recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll had one-third (34pc) of all 18- to 24-year-olds saying they would vote for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s party in a general election.
You would wonder how politically astute it is, then, to target voting-age students with such vitriol when you may be relying on their support in a few years’ time. You can be sure it is not the only group of Covid-confined students across the country who are breaching regulations after a year of lockdowns.
The same poll showed Fianna Fáil were at 6pc among this group of young voters, so they don’t have anything to lose, but it might be worth working on a strategy to build support among the voters of the future.
The behaviour of a small group of students during their college years will annoy a lot of people who have been following the Government-enforced restrictions for the last year. Others will understand what it is to be young and away from home for the first time in your life.
You don’t always make great decisions during your college years. Most people who made bad decisions in their late teens or early 20s were not criticised by politicians on the national airwaves.
The time of Government ministers may be better spent ensuring the vaccination programme operates at full capacity, seven days a week, rather than scapegoating students who don’t know when they will receive their first jab.
Source: Irish News