Belfast Telegraph

Ban party-bus drinking, urges SOS chief after Hardwell gig chaos at Odyssey Arena

By Michelle Smyth

Volunteers who helped prevent the chaos at an Odyssey Arena rave turn into a tragedy have urged MLAs to pass a law to stop party-goers drinking on buses and coaches.

SOS Bus staff were already on the scene when coachloads of youngsters arrived for last Thursday's Hardwell gig in east Belfast.

The charity helped dozens of drunk and drugged up children, but had to call in the emergency services when the scale of the problem became obvious.

As MLAs prepare to discuss the show as the Assembly's 'matter of the day' today, SOS Bus chief executive Joe Hyland said last night that politicians had the power to ban drinking on buses and coaches. Witnesses described children, some as young as 14, being violently ill after arriving 'pre-loaded' with alcohol before the gig, incapable youngsters sitting in pools of vomit and fights breaking out.

"In the Assembly today I want our MLAs to focus on legislation to prevent young people bringing alcohol on buses," he said.

"Perhaps we need to get SOS volunteers on the buses to support the bus drivers and make sure no alcohol is being brought on.

"I also want them to think about a way to bring society together to find a way to tackle this problem because together we can make a difference."

Beleaguered first aiders were forced to call in paramedics at the Odyssey last Thursday night.

Health chiefs declared a major incident; a special treatment facility was set up in the grounds of the complex and staff at Belfast hospitals put on standby.

The SOS Bus crew were widely praised for its work on Thursday.

Mr Hyland said: "We have also had so many encouraging and lovely messages, tweets and texts from people telling us we have done a great job.

"We have had a very tough weekend but we are all just glad that those kids are now safely back home with their parents."

At Stormont, Jim Allister is expected to ask whether the events will have any consequences for the Odyssey Trust, a charity, or coach operators who permitted drinking on the way to the venue.

The DUP's Robin Newton, in whose east Belfast constituency the incident happened, said a repeat of the scenes must be avoided adding: "I am not demanding bans or prohibitions, we just need to find out how this awful situation came about and work for the wellbeing of our youth so this doesn't happen again."

BACKGROUND

Eighteen of the 9,500 Hardwell concert-goers were taken to hospital last Thursday night. Some required overnight care while others treated at the scene. Following Thursday's chaos, the Odyssey Arena said it worked with the police and others to put in place stringent checks to stop people drinking excessively or taking drugs into the venue. The Ambulance Service said many revellers arrived at the concert already heavily intoxicated.

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