Belfast council blasted for scrapping Holylands CCTV
Three men charged and one police officer is injured amid scenes of chaos on the streets of south Belfast as St Patrick's Day celebrations are marred by the worst booze-fuelled violence for years
Belfast City Council has been accused of failing Holylands residents by removing a CCTV system in the area just weeks before some of the worst St Patrick's Day trouble for years.
The system was installed in the student-dominated south Belfast enclave in 2009 after March 17 rioting hit headlines worldwide and left residents traumatised. But councillors voted to remove the CCTV last month, voting down an Alliance proposal to maintain it.
Three men have been charged after disturbances in the early hours of Thursday. One officer was injured when bottles were thrown at police in Agincourt Avenue as a crowd of about 300 people gathered.
With fears of a repeat performance last night, the PSNI, paramedics, council staff and university monitors were on the streets.
Ambulances, police vehicles and taxis picked their way through streets thick with debris after partying by thousands of revellers, mostly students, but also some locals and friends bussed in for the day.
As night fell, drunken crowds spilled onto the roads, blocking the narrowest ones, such as Palestine Street, making it difficult for vehicles to pass. While problems were not on the same scale as earlier in the day, the atmosphere remained tense.
One officer said: "We want to nip things in the bud before anything really kicks off. If it stays like this, we'll be all right."
Joe Hyland, chief executive of SoS NI - whose volunteers were helping those struggling to cope with too much alcohol - said more than 300 young people had received treatment for injuries over St Patrick's Day. Meanwhile, it emerged that the Holylands CCTV system set up to combat anti-social behaviour was ditched due to cost.
A council report found the CCTV system would cost up to £150,000 to upgrade, £45,000 to maintain for three years and £1,000 to remove it. Council officers advised that there was no budget to invest in the system.
The people and communities committee voted on January 12 to dismantle the system.
In February, Alliance's Emmet McDonough-Brown proposed keeping the system going for three years.
However, the DUP, UUP and Sinn Fein voted it down.
Mr McDonough-Brown said: "I was disappointed that colleagues from other parties declined to support this community in south Belfast and it is for them to defend their decision."
January's council report found a reluctance to consider re-investing in a system the council felt had not made enough impact.