More than 200 students have been suspended from Queen's University, Belfast in just seven months for breaching coronavirus regulations, it can be revealed.
In total, 252 students have been reported to the university by police, while 229 were suspended for a fortnight after flouting the health and safety rules.
The remaining 23 received their Covid notices prior to a change in conduct regulations which now allows for the imposition of a two-week Emergency Precautionary Suspension, according to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request obtained by the Belfast Telegraph.
QUB said it takes these breaches "very seriously, as evidenced by the number of students who have received an automatic suspension as evidenced by the number of students who have received an automatic suspension between August 2020 and February 2021."
A spokesperson added: "More stringent disciplinary measures are applied as necessary in the case of serious or repeated breaches." After their return from their suspension, students were dealt with through the university conduct regulations.
The FoI revealed that 176 received a fine and a written warning, five got a conditional discharge, with a further 43 referred to a Committee of Discipline. Meanwhile, 28 cases are pending, awaiting outcome.
Alliance South Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw said lessons must be learned by students who have been given suspensions.
"They have let themselves and their families down," she said.
"We can only hope they think twice before re-engaging in this sort of behaviour.
"A two-week suspension, married with a fine, will hopefully be a deterrent. Students really need to consider whether they want to end up with a criminal record."
Green Party MLA for the area Clare Bailey urged students to take the warning seriously.
"Universities have made it clear that students risk their health as well as their futures by breaking Covid regulations across the St Patrick's Day period," Ms Bailey said.
QUB said it works in close partnership with the Students' Union, Ulster University, PSNI, Belfast City Council and other key stakeholders to promote student safety and welfare.
"This year it's more important than ever that everyone plays their part to reduce the spread of Covid-19," a spokesperson said.
"All students have been advised to avoid unnecessary travel and only travel to the university area if necessary for their studies.
"The majority of cases of anti-social behaviour that occur around St Patrick's Day are not caused by students of Queen's, and the university appreciates that the majority of students will continue to behave responsibly.
"The university fully investigates any complaints or reports of anti-social behaviour.
"A strict off-campus disciplinary code is in place, and if any Queen's student is found to have brought the university into disrepute, they will be subject to the full rigours of this code."
QUB said it has data-sharing agreements with the statutory authorities and stringent disciplinary measures for any student who breaches the Covid-19 public health guidelines, resulting in automatic suspension for 14 days.