Arlene Foster has said she was "shocked" to see the Belfast Telegraph report that police removed around 40 revellers after all-night parties were staged in a Belfast apartment complex at the weekend.
Our exclusive pictures show visitors appearing to flout social distancing restrictions in a number of apartments, which are available to rent on a short-term basis, in the Obel Tower 64 at Donegall Quay.
Police said they were called to the high-rise on a number of occasions on Saturday night.
While Mrs Foster said she was shocked by the pictures, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said big gatherings of people flouting the restrictions were putting the public at risk.
People started arriving at Obel Tower 64 at around 4pm on Saturday with parties occurring through the night until around 5.30am on Sunday.
There’s no suggestion that every apartment in the building was involved in partying.
Dream Apartments, which rents out the properties, has launched an investigation.
The company said it was made aware of “an incident in one apartment”, and was investigating further anti-social disruption on its property. It said it “completely condemns” any breaching of social distancing regulations in the complex
It explained the apartments are currently available to rent to key workers, as well as to those who want to self-isolate.
The company had taken the booking “in good faith”, it added, in the understanding that it was helping people with the need to self-isolate.
It criticised what it described as “the deplorable abuse of trust”.
Eyewitnesses spoke of their shock as events unfolded into the early hours of Sunday.
Video clips of the parties were uploaded to Snapchat and people could be observed shouting out of windows and dancing as music blasted.
A steady stream of taxis were observed dropping people off at the apartments.
One eyewitness told this newspaper: “It was like a seven-floor nightclub. There was loud music and dancing... there’s no way social distancing was being followed.”
The PSNI said: “Police received reports that a number of parties were taking place within the building last night.
“Officers attended on a number of occasions throughout the night and removed approximately 40 non-residents from a number of apartments who were in breach of the Covid-19 regulations.”
No one was charged with any offence and no fines had been issued, police explained, adding enforcement action will only be taken as a “last resort”.
Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist at Queen’s University Belfast, described the actions of the party-goers as worrying considering the wider risk to the community.
“It is very concerning, given that adequate social distancing between a small number of people is likely impossible in such a scenario,” he said.
“We know that SARS-CoV-2 is still out there in the community — albeit at a reduced level — and we know that it can spread well in close contact.
“Parties like this will be excellent means to spread the virus to many people if someone was infected who attended it.
“We should continue to discourage such behaviour that is putting those attending the party at risk as well as the wider community.”
Dream Apartments said on Sunday: “We were made aware of an incident in one apartment first thing this morning and took the immediate action to eject the people involved from the building.
“We are fully investigating the allegation of further anti-social disruption on our property.
“Our accommodation is currently open to key workers and those wishing to self-isolate for health or work reasons.
“The booking who caused last night’s disruption (was) from a supposed ‘key worker’, which we took in good faith, in the understanding that we were helping people with the need to self-isolate. This abuse of trust is deplorable. We completely condemn any behaviour that breaks any social distancing guidelines and we will be screening all future bookings with greater care with immediate effect, and introducing stricter security measures.
“We understand that it is human nature to enjoy and crave social contact. However, in the current climate this is totally unacceptable on our premises.”