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McGimpsey may crack down on pub ‘happy hours’

By Lisa Smyth

A ban on drink promotions and happy hours could be on the cards as the Health Minister vows to crack down on alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland.

Michael McGimpsey said he would consider the move as he visited the A&E department at the Royal Victoria Hospital to speak to staff as they prepared for one of the busiest nights of the year.

There were fears there could be a repeat of the violent scenes witnessed in the Holy Land area of south Belfast last St Patrick’s Day when drunken students set fire to cars, threw bottles and stones at PSNI riot lines and blocked off streets.

Mr McGimpsey said he was dismayed to learn a number of licensed premises in the area were operating drink promotions yesterday.

“I think it is very, very irresponsible,” he said.

“The issue of drink promotions and happy hours is something I will have to look at. Every year the combination of a large number of young people and alcohol results in an extra burden being placed on the health services and on our A&E departments.

“I would like to see a more responsible approach. The demand on the health service is rising rapidly and on days like this staff are stretching themselves to cope with the demand.”

By 5pm yesterday there was already a trickle of St Patrick’s Day revellers arriving at the Royal’s A&E department for treatment.

One of the patients, 29-year-old Kieran Walsh, was bottled in the face after he intervened in an argument.

He explained: “I was walking down the street and I saw my friend surrounded by a group so I went over to see if he was OK. One of them tried to take the St Patrick’s Day hat I was wearing but I wouldn’t let them and the next thing I knew someone had hit me in the face with a Jack Daniel’s bottle.

“The police arrived pretty much straight away and I was brought here. I’ve been told I have two pretty nasty cuts on my face.”

Deputy Sister Marilla McCauley, who has worked in the A&E department at the Royal for over 30 years, said there has been an increase in the number of emergency admissions to the hospital in the past five years. “St Patrick’s wasn’t such a big thing when I started working but that has changed,” she said.

“We have extra staff on. We bring extra staff in for all big occasions, like on New Year’s Eve. That way we are prepared for whatever happens.”

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