Hire coach packed with alcohol 'like a mini off-licence'
The amount of alcohol being loaded onto a bus packed with young people resembled an off-licence, Health Minister Edwin Poots has warned.
And he said the private company involved in hiring the coach had been "wholly irresponsible".
The DUP minister was speaking in the Assembly yesterday following last Thursday's Major Incident at the Odyssey complex in Belfast when more than 100 people were treated by medics and 17 subsequently taken to hospital at a concert by Dutch DJ Hardwell.
Mr Poots is now to set up a meeting with the PSNI, the Department of the Environment – which is responsible for licensing private hire companies – along with the Odyssey management to attempt to ensure it never happens again.
In response to a question from his party colleague Jim Wells, the minister said the incident had a "fairly significant impact" on the province's emergency departments.
"The cause of the problem was alcohol and drugs. The people attending emergency departments were 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. None of them should have been drinking alcohol, and the drugs were illegal," he said.
"Let us be very clear that, as a consequence of taking materials that they should not have taken, young people ended up in our emergency departments."
SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey, however, asked Mr Poots to acknowledge the many thousands of young people across Northern Ireland who behave responsibly and maturely and are "tarnished" by last week's events.
Mr Poots said: "The majority of young people in Northern Ireland are good young people. I was at an event on Saturday night with many young people who are going to Poland to help young people there who are in very needy circumstances.
"I was in conversation with someone from Mr Ramsey's part of the world who had witnessed some young people getting onto a bus. He said that the amount of alcohol being loaded onto that bus resembled a mini off-licence.
"It was wholly irresponsible of the private coach hire company to allow that to happen. It is against the law, and it is the Department of the Environment's responsibility to enforce it. We cannot continue with this attitude to alcohol. Our young people consume far too much of it."
Meanwhile, another DUP man, Policing Board member Robin Newton, welcomed confirmation that the Odyssey management is to conduct a review of the events of last Thursday night.
However, he was also pushing for a PSNI report on the scenes, which were described by one charity worker as being "like a disaster zone".
"It is right that such a report is carried out by Odyssey management, but there must also be an independent assessment of events. There are lessons to be learned from what happened last Thursday. We owe it to our young people to do all we can to keep them safe," he added.