University of Limerick cites security concerns in refusal to disclose spending on garda patrols

University of Limerick campus Photo: True Media

THE University of Limerick (UL) has cited security and commercial reasons for refusing to state how much public money it has spent on funding garda patrols in off-campus areas.

The patrols operated between last March and October in response to breaches of public health guidelines, anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in off-campus areas.

Refusing to reveal the spending total, following a request made by this reporter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) Act, UL stated it’s operations should be “as open to scrutiny as possible”.

However, despite receiving the funds from the exchequer, UL said it would be “commercially sensitive” to disclose how much it has spent on garda patrols as this could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the patrols, law enforcement and public safety, and may impact on ensuring the safety of gardai conducting the patrols.

The FOI request also sought disclosure of the total number of garda patrols, locations patrolled, and all communications between UL and gardai relating to the patrols, but this was also refused.

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UL began funding the Garda patrols last March in response to incidents of drug dealing and anti-social behaviour, as well as students attending large gatherings in breach of public health guidelines.

In one incident, on March 2, Gardai responded to a chaotic street party in Castletroy and initially “attempted to engage with the gathered individuals” but were “forced to intervene…after continued and orchestrated non-compliance with Public Health Regulations and failing to comply with the directions from An Garda Siochana”, said a Garda spokesman.

At the time Gardai arrested a number of people for alleged public order and drugs offences, and served 30 on-the-spot fines for breaches of the Health Act (Covid regulations) at the gathering.

Responding to the FOI request, UL said: “The public interest factors in favour of releasing records include the right to seek access under FOI legislation and the general public interest in making the operations of the University of Limerick as open to scrutiny as possible. However, records relating to the number/type of patrols and additional information on the location of the patrols in question are commercially sensitive in nature and from which certain information such as number of Gardaí undertaking patrols / hourly rates could be extrapolated.”

“A number of operational communications records between UL and An Garda Síochana are held however the release of information in these records at the present time would also disclose current deliberations and planning relating to law enforcement and public safety.”

“As above, the release of such information would allow further details on the frequency of patrols and number of Gardaí in attendance, which would in turn have a negative impact on the effectiveness of these patrols and may have an impact on ensuring the personal safety of Gardaí undertaking the patrols,” it added.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said the COVID-19 Budget distributed to Universities for costs directly incurred as a result of consequences of COVID-19 was a matter for the Department of Further and Higher Education.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Further and Higher Education replied: “As a Government Department, all our funding comes from the Exchequer. The source of Exchequer funding, i.e. whether it’s taxation or borrowing, is not something we can speak to.”