There was tough talk at a special public meeting of the Belfast Holyland Regeneration Association (BHRA) last week as residents living in and around the University area of south Belfast called for extra police powers to issue on-the-spot fines for drunk and disorderly behaviour in the area.
During a packed meeting hosted by the BHRA in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church Hall angry residents told a panel of public representatives, including Anna Lo, Alex Maskey, Jimmy Spratt and Esmond Birnie, to lobby on their behalf for something to be done about spiralling levels of anti-social behaviour among students living in south Belfast.
Chairing the meeting, BHRA chairman Ray Farley said: “The broken window theory could be applied to the Holyland — if one window is left broken, then the rest are broken and eventually the area declines.
“When law-abiding eyes stop watching then the criminals move in, but this can be addressed by making small significant changes on the ground such as giving the police the power to issue on-the-spot fines for unruly behaviour.”
South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt said he “firmly supported the idea” of fines.
“However, it needs to be legislated in which is not a devolved matter at the moment,” said Mr Spratt.
Fellow MLA Anna Lo said: “I support implementing fines as sometimes talking does not always help to solve the matter.”
South Belfast UUP spokesman Esmond Birnie said: “If you can bring in fines for dropping litter then you should be able to do likewise for anti-social behaviour.
“But we also have to look at how to change licensing laws and how they affect this problem.”
Alex Maskey MLA said that although he was “not against the principle of fines” the issue of alcohol-related anti-social behaviour was “more complicated than that”.
Unable to attend in person, South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell issued a statement that was read out to the meeting in which he revealed plans to raise the issue at Westminster.
“I will be tabling a question to Minister of State Paul Goggins to issue a statement on the current problems with the Holyland area and whether on-the-spot fines could be issued to people drinking on the street,” said Dr McDonnell.
Addressing the panel, Holyland resident Liam Kielty said “direct action was needed and soon” to control alcohol-related problems in the area.
“I’m hearing a lot of discussion tonight about tackling this problem, but what exact formation is this going to take?” said Mr Kielty.
“I have nothing but praise for the work of the police on the ground in this area, but they are being badly let down by their superiors.”
Another local resident said: “You can get hundreds of police officers out for parades and protests but we can only get two officers out for anti-social behaviour in the Holyland.
“We have been making these complaints for years but nothing has been done.
“This community is being strangled and we need help.”
A PSNI spokesperson told the meeting that the amalgamation of the University and Donegall Pass sector police units operating out of Donegall Pass police station would “greatly improve response rates and target officers to the problem areas that needed then most”.