Northern Ireland

Plans 'reduced St Pat's trouble' in Holyland area of Belfast

There was an increased police presence in the area over the St Patrick's weekend
Image caption There was an increased police presence in the area over the St Patrick's weekend

Northern Ireland's two universities have said planning ahead greatly contributed to the reduction in trouble in the Holyland area of Belfast over St Patrick's Day.

Police, officials from the city council, the University of Ulster and Queen's had been patrolling the area since Thursday.

One resident said it had been a "big improvement" on recent years.

"Early intervention set the tone," said Rowan Davison.

During Thursday night and the early hours of Friday, eight people were arrested in the area for a range of anti-social behaviour.

Mr Davison said: "While there was still a bit of trouble on Thursday night and Saturday night it was nothing like the scale of previous years.

"The universities and the police put a huge amount of effort in. Early intervention maybe set the tone and that's what we've been asking for in previous years.

"The residents experience a level of trouble eight months a year and what we need is a plan and a permanent solution."

Queen's University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Gallagher said Saturday was completely transformed, compared to last year.

He said the approach by a variety of agencies appeared to have significantly reduced problems.

"Although having the minority of university students residing in the Holyland, it appears that most of the Queen's contingent have taken advantage of the reading day on Friday and listened to our advice to go home for the holiday weekend," he said.

"This was reinforced by news that less than 40 Northern Ireland students had remained in Belfast at our main accommodation site, the Elms Village.

"With fewer houses occupied in the Holyland, those coming into the area looking for parties and places to congregate were disappointed and did not hang around."

He also said work ahead of St Patrick's Day by Queens in urging sixth formers to stay away from the area may also have helped reduce the numbers.

He said "diligent planning" by the PSNI and Belast City Council and the robust approach taken from the beginning of the weekend "in no small way, sent out a clear message that anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated".

In a statement, the University of Ulster said the fact there had been no repeat of the disorder in 2009 was "no cause for celebration".

"The residents of the Holyland have to endure a lot of unacceptable behaviour from a minority of students and hangers-on throughout the year, not just on St Patrick's Day," it said.

"We remain committed to working with the residents, landlords and other partners including QUB, Belfast Metropolitan College, St Mary's, Stranmillis, the PSNI, Belfast City Council, the Housing Executive, DEL, DSD and DOE and local political representatives to minimise the potential for anti-social behaviour there.

"We would again remind students that throughout the academic year, there is a responsibility on them to treat their neighbours with respect and not to let themselves or this university down.

"The university will keep its promise to suspend immediately and then expel those who are found guilty at any time of the year of serious anti-social behaviour."

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