Freshers Week in Tatters: College cite fire regulations as reason for crackdown

Originally published in Volume II, Issue 1 on 27th September 1995 by Observer Reporter. Freshers Week will be scaled down and very strictly regulated this year as a result of what the college authorities claim was pressure from the Dublin Fire Officer. However, college societies are viewing the changes as a thinly veiled attempt by the Buildings and Services Department to make life easier on themselves at any cost to student social life. Instead of the usual 200 stands featuring everything from canoes to synthetic sheep, the Buildings Department is insisting that only 60 uniform, 2m by 2m non-flammable stands will be allowed in the Arts concourse. There will also be strict regulations on video screens, stereos, beer raffles, promotions and food give-aways. Aidan Grenell, UCD Buildings Officer claims that he is only trying to keep the college authorities out of the courts, and that one incident in particular, when the Agricultural Society’s stand went on fire a few years ago, could have developed into a fatal situation; “Last year there were over 200 stands and there was various complaints as a result of disruption of lectures and people having difficulty getting into classes on time because of the heavy number of people on the concours. The fire authorities became very concerned about the safety aspect of the set up. They told us that we would have to reduce it or move it out completely.” “We wanted to move the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel to the Sports Centre, where everyone would be treated equally. The Students Union and the big clubs societies said that they couldn’t envisage leaving the Arts Building. However, if we allowed any more than sixty five stands we were in danger of being penalised under the Fire Safety Act of 1991 and there would be a notice served on the entire building, which would prevent us having Freshers Week.” With in the region of 150 student clubs and societies in existence, the Student Consultative Forum has had to come to an arrangement that seems to have satisfied very few societies. The ten biggest societies, including the L&H, Dramsoc and the Film and Video Society, will have a stand in the Arts Block for the entire week. One hundred other societies will have half a week on rotating stands, with the remainder being forced under the outdoor walkways. Societies originally allocated half a week in the Arts Block have the option of having a full week on the walkways outside. Pol O’Gradaigh, auditor of Politics Society, whose speakers last year included Albert Reynolds and Harry Whelehan, is angry at the way small and medium sized societies are being treated; “Despite the fact that we have hundred of members and are bringing in guests like Proinsias De Rossa and Terry Eagleton, we’re treated on par with the Christian Vineyard Fellowship. The college authorities’ attitude seems to keep the students quiet and stop them from getting in the way. It’s going to be much harder for us to recruit. Freshers will see the stand on Monday or Tuesday and expect that they can join later in the week.” Mark Allen, auditor of the International Commerce Society is particularly pessimistic about the effect of the cutbacks on his stands; “We’re expecting our membership to be halved as a result of the decision. If you’re allocated the second half of the week you’re in trouble because many first years have spent all the money they’re going to spend on societies by then.” Tessa Molloy, of the Italian Society believes their numbers will also drop substantially; “There are disadvantages to being at the start of the week as well. First years are busy enough trying to get organised to go to their lectures in the first few days, never mind any effort to take account of the fact some societies are going to be there for two days and some for three. The split week for everyone except the top ten will mean that freshers won’t be as aware of the smaller societies which ironically are usually the best place to meet people.” Philosophy Society auditor, Eoin Keehan, says the restrictions will open up an unbridgeable gap between the small and large societies; “What it all means is that the big societies will get bigger and the small ones smaller. Students were moving from the smaller academic societies to the big names anyway. College shouldn’t be encouraging it. Freshers Week worked for the last twenty five years, so how has it suddenly become such a safety problem?”