Belfast Telegraph

Concern over lack of plan to deal with St Patrick's Day in Belfast Holyland area

By Jill Goligher

The annual St Patrick's Day celebrations are almost upon us, and as usual, Belfast will mark March 17 with a colourful carnival parade and free concert in the city centre... or so we hope.

Already local residents in the long-suffering Holyland area have expressed concern that Belfast City Council has not revealed its plan to deal with any potential disturbances this year.

There are currently plans to break the world record for a rock the boat gather, leading to fears that a huge number of young people will take over the area.

Ray Farley, president of the Holyland Residents Association told the Belfast Telegraph that he has invited Belfast City Council representatives to their Residents Association meeting this week to see what is going to be done so things can run peacefully.

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: "As in previous years, we will be working in close co-operation with partner agencies including PSNI, the two universities and local residents on an ongoing basis to minimise any negative impact of the celebrations on the wider community, while allowing people to safely and lawfully enjoy the day."

A new action plan for the festivities in the Holyland are said to include: preventing bus loads of people coming into the area, monitoring social media and more powers to confiscate alcohol on St Patrick's Day.

Queen's University and Ulster University are reportedly putting together a plan to make sure the celebrations go by smoothly.

Professor David Jones, pro-vice-chancellor for Education and Students at Queens University is encouraging students and young people to avoid the Holyland area.

"Throughout the year, Queen's University works with residents and community groups in the Holyland area," he said.

"The university has a comprehensive programme in place to educate and support students, working in close partnership with the Queen's University Students' Union, PSNI and Belfast City Council.

"Queen's staff will be on the ground in the Holyland area throughout this week and during St Patricks Day itself, supporting the PSNI and council in their robust enforcement of legislation in relation to anti-social behaviour."

It can be revealed that last year's chaos has resulted in a local business planning to remain closed in fear it could happen again.

Belfast businessman Chris Suitor had to close his business early due to security issues, and this year said he won't open.

"The carnival atmosphere doesn't present a retail environment and we will be closing our Royal Avenue store on St Patrick's Day for the foreseeable future," he said, adding: "We will also be closing our stores on July 12 to keep a balance."

Following St Patrick's Day last year, the PSNI said it had made 11 arrests "in and around the city centre and Holyland areas".

Meanwhile the main event in Belfast city centre will include a parade starting from City Hall at 12noon before making its way to the concert venue at Custom House Square.

A free concert will take place between 12.45pm and 3pm, headlined by X Factor's Fleur East, along with performances from former X Factor duo Reggie 'n' Bollie, London girl group Stooshe, Belfast Boys' Model drummers and up-tempo traditional band The Rare Aul Stuff.

Street parking in Donegall Street will be suspended from 9pm on Thursday, March 16, until after 1pm on March 17 to allow the parade to progress.

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