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Holyland trouble: Belfast police hit out as revellers 'divert officers from tackling crime'

Patrols to increase in run up to St Patrick's Day

By Jonny Bell

The PSNI has angrily hit out at student revellers from diverting resources from crime prevention to having to police their party.

Police Land Rovers and cops in riot gear flooded Belfast's Holyland area on Wednesday evening because of a disturbance.

Their vehicles were pelted with missiles. One student described large crowds of people gathered in the Agincourt Avenue area but said he saw no trouble and thought it was mostly noise complaints which had brought the police onto the streets.

However, he did admit to it being "bad" compared to the usual, adding: "I've never seen the likes of this before."

On social media, users described the disturbance as "mayhem".

By the time the Belfast Telegraph arrived on the scene after 9pm there were only signs of a clean-up and small pockets of people outside houses.

Both universities have condemned the trouble.

Police said they attended the area alongside Belfast City Council, Ulster University and Queen's University officials, gathered evidence and spoke with individuals. There were no arrests.

"These are police officers who are much better employed tackling crime on our streets, proactively patrolling our neighbourhoods and responding to emergencies," said Chief Inspector Kellie McMillan.

"It is highly likely that what seemed like fun for some people last night could have significant and far reaching consequences for them in the future.

Police in the Holyland area last night
Police in the Holyland area last night

“People have every right to enjoy each other’s company, but I would remind them in the run up to St Patrick’s Day next week, that what might initially seem like innocent partying can quickly get out of hand, potentially resulting in a criminal record which can affect travel, education and employment opportunities in the future.

“The year round residents who live in this area are completely fed up with this type of behaviour and the police and partner response, whilst proportionate and considered, will be visible and robust especially in the lead up to St Patrick’s Day.”

More: Heavy police presence in Belfast's Holyland area welcomed in 'crackdown' ahead of St Patrick's Day

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday night. Ray Farley of the Holyland Regeneration Association said the police presence was a bid to "crackdown" on any potential disturbances before it kicks off.

He said: "The police had said they were going to try and make a presence so that if anything did kick off to try and nip it in the bud, although it hadn't been scheduled to start this early. But if they are sitting ready and waiting it's better to be there.

"It's to set the agenda that we aren't going to let people get away with this sort of behaviour.

Holyland area on Wednesday night.
Holyland area on Wednesday night.

"It does happen all the time, it's not just St Patrick's Day and it was a reasonable day today weather wise - so that's possibly what happened and it spills on."

Queen's University

A spokeswoman for Queen's said: "Queen’s University condemns the anti-social behaviour that took place in the Holyland area of Belfast last night.

"University staff were in the area last night and will continue to work with the PSNI and Belfast City Council to support their robust enforcement of legislation in relation to anti-social behaviour.

"A strict off-campus disciplinary code is in place, and if any Queen’s student is found to have brought the University into disrepute, they will be subject to the full rigours of this code.”

Ulster University

A spokeswoman for Ulster University said: "With disturbances and large crowds of young people in the Holylands area of South Belfast last night, Ulster University has urged students to stay away from the area ahead of the annual St Patrick’s Day holiday.

“We are working closely with the PSNI and Belfast City Council to support them as they enforce the relevant on-street drinking, noise and anti-social behaviour legislation in the area.

"We condemn the behaviour last night which resulted in police being called to the area.  Our university representatives active on the ground last night worked closely with the PSNI to support interventions.

"Although we are aware of increasing numbers of non-students who travel to the Holylands area each year, we have clearly communicated the risks of engaging in anti-social behaviour to our students. Any reports made to us by the authorities will be subject to robust university disciplinary action.

"This is in addition to any action which may be taken by the PSNI or Belfast City Council.

"We are proud of our role in the community and the positive contribution our talented students make to society but we will not tolerate any level of anti-social behaviour by a minority who bring their institution into disrepute. By failing to act or drink responsibly, they are placing their future career, safety and the safety and wellbeing of others at risk.”

Belfast City Council said it had nothing to add other than to say it continued to work in partnership with police and the universities on the matter.

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