Northern Ireland

Falls Park: Residents 'at wits end' over youth activity

Falls park entrance
Image caption PSNI were also attacked by the group on Saturday night

People living near a park in west Belfast are "at their wits end" after about 150 young people gathered in the area over the weekend, a local councillor has said.

The group gathered at Falls Park on Saturday night and threw stones, bricks and bottles at passing motorists.

Up to 50 police officers and the PSNI helicopter were involved in ending the anti-social behaviour.

They were also attacked by the young people.

Image caption A fire was also started at the nearby Dunville Park on Saturday evening

Sinn Féin councillor Steven Corr described the incident as the "perfect storm" - a culmination of the last weekend of the Christmas break, a lot of alcohol and a mild evening that led young people onto the streets.

"A small minority started stoning buses, cars and throwing rocks onto the Falls Road," he said.

"There was a car windscreen smashed. We're very fortunate that we didn't have a major catastrophe on the Falls Road and in Falls Park because there were arranged fights, and there were fights breaking out."

Image caption Sinn Féin Councillor Steven Corr believes the meetings have been arranged online

The young people involved are thought to be aged between 13-17, and travelled to Falls Park from across Belfast after the gathering was arranged on social media.

"We had the crazy situation where young people were being dropped off by their parents, getting off by their dozens from buses and taxis and coming in here," explained Mr Corr.

"It's unfair for us to try and get one or two members of staff to close the gates because they were being surrounded by hundreds of kids."

Image caption Ch Insp Stephen McCauley appealed for parents to be aware of their children's whereabouts

'Avoid criminal record'

Ch Insp Stephen McCauley said his officers were also facing an uphill struggle to calm the crowds.

"We were confronted by a heavy barrage of missiles being thrown. It's an ongoing problem and we do see an upsurge at holiday period," he said.

"Saturday night was probably the most significant for a while and I'd appeal to parents to know where your children are, and to the children - you don't want to get a criminal record, especially when you're young.

"Respect the community you belong to."

Image caption Remnants of fire started at Dunville Park in west Belfast

The problem of anti-social behaviour at parks across Belfast is not new and it is not isolated to Falls Park.

A fire was also started at the nearby Dunville Park on Saturday evening.

'Dreading good weather'

Mr Corr said large groups of young people gathering can be intimidating for those living and working in the area.

"Who's going to go into a petrol station if there's 40 or 50 young people on the forecourt? It's the sheer numbers sometimes which scare people," he said.

Image caption Local residents have raised serious concerns about the activity

"People living round Falls Park say they're at their wits end come the weekend. They're at their wits end when they get good weather.

"We shouldn't be living in a city where they're dreading warm weather because they know when good weather comes out, also out come the carry outs."

He has called for innovative ideas on challenging the issues plaguing parks across Belfast - including keeping them open later and providing better lighting.

Local representatives are due to meet Belfast City Council and the PSNI later this week to try and address the issue of safety in parks.

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