Belfast Telegraph

Belfast police under fire for 'kid gloves approach in Holyland on St Patrick's Day

By Niamh Burns

Police have been criticised for a shortage of arrests in the hard-partying Holyland area around St Patrick's Day.

A total of 15 were made in and around central Belfast and the student district.

The arrests, linked to the festivities in the city, were for a range of public order offences including disorderly behaviour, resisting arrest and assault on police.

However, there was surprise that a vast policing operation in the Holyland did not result in more people being lifted.

Police flooded the area in a bid to avoid a repeat of the disorder that marred the 2016 St Patrick's celebrations.

Locals said up to three times as many officers were on hand compared to last year.

Ray Farley from the Belfast Holyland Regeneration Association said he thought police had used kid gloves.

"I do feel that there could have been a few more arrests made, for instance for street drinking offences," he said.

"No matter what you say, people behave badly, but they are responsible for their own actions.

"They know the score, they have been told by their universities not to behave in this way."

Mr Farley said it was time for the Holyland to return to what it was in the past.

"We need to turn back the Holyland to what it was 30 years ago, which was a family, residential area," he argued.

"It's always been a nice part of Belfast to live in, even during the Troubles, where it was a mixed community.

"We would encourage universities and developers to create accommodation more so in the city centre, away from residential areas."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the police operation had resulted in less trouble than there had been in previous years, which was a bonus.

"I wish to thank the police for their operation surrounding St Patrick's Day in the Holyland in particular," she said.

"Their presence helped ensure non-student residents were left with the minimum of disruption, while allowing revellers to enjoy themselves without a repeat of last year's disgraceful scenes."

PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said that alcohol had been the main factor in the 15 arrests.

"Thankfully, there was no repeat of the disgraceful levels of behaviour that we saw in the Holyland last year," she said.

"However, police and partner agencies responded to numerous reports of unacceptable anti-social conduct and young people drinking alcohol in the street. In fact, the majority of those arrested were under the influence of alcohol.

"A significant police and partnership operation was in place to help ensure the celebration passed off in a largely peaceful fashion.

"And, with the exception of a few, most people who attended the city centre parade, or who celebrated independently, did so in a good-natured and respectful fashion."

She added: "In due course police, along with partner agencies, and in consultation with the local community, will review all of the planning for St Patrick's Day and its associated events and will take away whatever learning there is to improve the experience in future for residents and visitors alike."

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