The annual tradition of student RAG week has once again caused havoc in cities around Ireland with numerous arrests for anti-social behaviour and drunkenness. Overworked Gardaí and other front line workers were on duty to maintain public order and keep the hundreds of revellers from harm.
The official aim of RAG week is to raise funds and awareness for charities and traditionally involves dressing up for street collections, organised events and entertainment. RAG is a latter day acronym for “Raise and Give” but in recent times, this seems to have been forgotten and RAG week has spiralled dangerously out of control in some cities to the extent that RAG week was banned by the student unions in Galway NUIG and GMIT in 2011.
In spite of the ban, Galway RAG week celebrations continue unofficially and are more aligned to the original Oxford English Dictionary definition of “Rag”; “an act of ragging; esp. an extensive display of noisy disorderly conduct, carried on in defiance of authority or discipline.”
This years RAG week in Waterford resulted in drunken students spending the night in cells when an event spiralled into chaos. Gardai attempted to control the hoard of drink-fuelled party goers as they spilled onto a street and refused to disperse. Most had been drinking all day. There were several arrests but fortunately no injuries.
In Galway, crowds massed near Supermac’s, Eyre Square after a pub had been cleared on the advice of the fire services who were concerned the number of people in the pub constituted a fire hazard. Another pub was accused of exploitation as they advertised a “Donegal Tuesday” event extensively which had students queuing in the streets from early morning wearing Donegal jerseys in order to enter the pub at 11am.
So what can be done to keep students and the general public safe during events of this type?
It is important that students are educated on the dangers of alcohol and its potentially lethal effects. Clearly a Gardaí presence is essential but also it may be an idea for student safety officers to be appointed to mingle in the towns, cities and venues to offer assistance or to monitor student behaviour that presents a threat to themselves or others.
Responsible student unions do give clear guidelines and safety tips to students participating in RAG week and encourage proper planning and help to arrange transport facilities, rendezvous points and support. However, none of this exists with the current unofficial Galway RAG week and it may be worth considering making the RAG week official again and get back to the core values of structured events, fundraising and entertainment that can be monitored.
Discouraging pubs from promotion of gratuitous consumption of alcohol may be of some help to the situation but would require venues to be proactive on RAG week policies.
There may be hope for safer times ahead as in 2011 DCU students decided to develop the concept of RAG and created RAG Ireland. The group encourages students to volunteer and challenge social problems. The organisation encourages students to be more hands on using their personal skills and ideas to raise money for charity with more focus on fundraising while still enjoying the celebrations. RAG Ireland is working hard to rectify perceptions of trouble filled, chaotic RAG weeks and if the original values were introduced back into RAG week, then this could be a compromise between student revellers and colleges and help bring RAG week back from the dangerous levels it seems to have risen to in recent years.
Author: Denise Colebrooke