Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Get tough on problem students, say residents

Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast 17/3/2009..Serious rioting erupted this evening in the 'Holy Land' area of Belfast as police in full riot gear were called in to restore order as students and their friends 'celebrating' St Patrick's Day, ran amok in the Carmel Street area wrecking and attempting to set fire to cars. Oofficials from Queens University tried to defuse the situation but tensions remain high and with hundreds more people pouring into the area, there are fears of further violence. Police in riot gear with dogs, eventually cleared Carmel Street and there were clashes between them and students as they re-claimed the street.

A Holy Land residents’ association has called for tougher measures by the police and the two universities here after hundreds of revellers transformed the area into a scene of drunken mayhem on St Patrick’s Day.

Riot police swarmed into the district close to Queen’s University after trouble flared on Tuesday afternoon.

Police found themselves pelted with bottles and other missiles by an angry mob when they arrived to restore order.

One local woman described the area as a “war zone”, and another local man said: “I have been here for 40 years and have never seen anything like this.”

The area has been the scene of disturbances on St Patrick's Day in previous years, prompting complaints from local residents and assurances from Northern Ireland’s two main universities that steps would be taken to deal with the problem.

However, this latest outbreak of disturbances has led to renewed calls for firmer action to be taken to prevent a repeat of the scenes and to deal more effectively with those caught by police.

Ray Farley, chairman of Holy Land Regeneration Association, said he would like to see on-the-spot fines introduced in the area.

“It was absolute mayhem. You get the feeling that there are powers that are there but they are not being used.

“Police tell them off — and they (the students) say ‘so what?’ — but if they say they will fine them then it will make them think twice. It is treated as if it is acceptable but it is not acceptable. The police really should take a hard line.”

Chairman of Belfast DPP and Laganbank councillor Christopher Stalford echoed the call. He said: “Thus far Queen’s and the University of Ulster have adopted a far too lax approach to dealing with this criminal behaviour.

“Students need to understand that if they behave like this, they will be expelled from university and never be allowed to return.”

South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt described the scenes as “shameful”.

He said: “It is time the local universities adopted a zero tolerance approach and expel those identified as being involved in this behaviour.”

A Queen’s University spokesman condemned the events and said that the university would take steps through its disciplinary procedures to deal with any students caught engaging in anti-social behaviour.

A University of Ulster spokesman also condemned the “wanton public disorder”.

“The PSNI will have the full co-operation of the university authorities in their investigations,” said the spokesman.

“Both universities had representatives on the ground throughout the day and their presence was appreciated by residents and police.”

A PSNI spokeswoman said: “As of 7am this morning (Wednesday, March 18) 19 people have been arrested due to the disturbances in the Holy Land area last night.

“Eleven remain in custody and of these five have been charged with public order offenses and will appear at Laganside Magistrate Court this morning. As is normal procedure, the charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service.”

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, detectives from south Belfast are appealing for information following an assault and shots fired in the area of Cooke Street on Tuesday night ( March 17).

Around 9pm a man received a head injury when he was hit with a bat during an altercation at a licensed premises on the Ormeau road. He left the premises and made his way home. Around 11pm it is believed two shots were fired at his car, a black VW Golf, shattering the windows.

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