Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Minister demands solutions to Holy Land’s drunken mayhem

Scenes of chaos: St Patrick's Day revellers and police in riot gear in the Holy Land area of south Belfast
Scenes from Belfast's Holyland area during disturbances on St. Patricks day.
Scenes from Belfast's Holyland area during disturbances on St. Patricks day.

A conference is to be held within weeks to ensure that there is no repeat of the disgraceful scenes in the Holy Land which shamed the city of Belfast.

The stakeholder conference, organised by Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey, will include police, community leaders, residents, students and politicians and will have an independent chair.

The Minister has insisted that he wants concrete solutions to come from the conference so that there is never a repeat of the drunken scenes which erupted on St Patrick’s Day.

Meanwhile, the police officer leading the investigation has warned that students involved in the violent scenes in south Belfast have put their entire future at risk.

Superintendent Chris Noble, acting district commander of south and east Belfast, issued a stark warning to those responsible for attacking police and causing mayhem in the area, which caused thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Superintendent Noble said police will not tolerate the kind of behaviour witnessed on Tuesday and refuted allegations that police were heavy-handed in their approach to dealing with the unfolding situation.

He said: “I think there is obviously a tolerance level to a certain extent in terms of people who maybe slipped over the line from being boisterous to damaging property, blocking roads, attacking police officers and there was a clear line being crossed. This was criminal behaviour. That is the bottom line.

“The people who do this need to understand the implications of their behaviour. They will end up with criminal records and we fully intend to share all the information we have with the universities so not only will their reputations be destroyed but their careers could also be at risk.”

Two police officers were recovering yesterday after sustaining injuries during the unrest, including one who was hurt after a firework was thrown in her face, while five people appeared in court charged with offences ranging from riotous behaviour to assault.

Supt Noble said the PSNI had worked in conjunction with a number of agencies, including community groups and the universities, ahead of St Patrick’s Day to ensure it passed off peacefully.

He added: “I think there is a great deal of frustration that despite all the work that was done in the months leading up to yesterday that this kind of behaviour occurred.

“My officers responded to calls about noisy house parties in the area at about 2pm and then at about 2.45pm it was reported that there were a number of barricades across the road in Carmel Street.

“Officers removed the barriers and talked to youths and advised them about their behaviour. At 3pm there was a high number of rowdy youths in the area and our initial approach was to work with the community safety wardens.

“However, officers came under a sustained brick and bottle attack at 4pm and we couldn’t get anyone to engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue.

“Vehicles were being damaged and police were being hit by missiles. There were about 200 to 300 people in the crowd. While there are thousands of students at the universities — and proportionately this is a small number of people involved in the unrest — numerically it was a significant number.”

In the wake of yesterday’s violence, local people have complained that licenced premises should be held more accountable and Supt Noble encouraged residents to come forward with any information regarding any premises believed to be breaking licencing laws, adding that one off licence in the area was cautioned on Tuesday for selling alcohol to intoxicated people.

“I would like to appeal to people with information about the perpetrators of the unrest to speak to CID at Musgrave Street or through Crimestoppers,” he said.

“I would also like to commend my officers who responded in a proportionate and professional manner in the face of extreme provocation.”

Information can be passed to police by ringing 0845 600 8000 or freephone Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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