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St Patrick's Day fears for Belfast Holyland residents as students planning massive outdoor party

By Rebecca Black

Plans are under way for a mass gathering in the Holyland area of south Belfast on St Patrick's Day, it can be revealed.

The area has become infamous in recent years for large numbers of young people taking part in anti-social behaviour to the distress of residents.

Now two Facebook page events have been set up calling for thousands of people to come into the area on March 17.

The Holylands Rock the Boat St Paddy's 2017 page says the world record for the biggest Rock the Boat is 1,701 and asks: "can we beat it?", adding "more info to be announced".

A similarly titled, seemingly rival, page has been set up, which gives a time for the event as 2pm.

Ray Farley of the Holyland Regeneration Association said he was aware of the pages and another effort to stage a large street party.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that he was hoping nature would give locals a respite.

"All we can do is pray for rain. If we had a day like last week (Storm Doris), that would be excellent," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I'm worried what might happen, if this does happen, because the more people come along, the noisier it becomes and the more destructive. And you get more people who are not students coming in.

"I am assuming the PSNI are keeping an eye on this and will be there hopefully to stop unpleasant behaviour. It didn't start out well last year and just kept getting worse as the day went on."

Trouble flared in the Holyland in the early hours of St Patrick's Day 2016 when more than 300 revellers gathered.

A police officer was injured when a bottle was thrown during disturbances which lasted for more than two hours.

Eleven arrests were made for public order offences including disorderly behaviour, resisting arrest and assault on police in the Holyland and the city centre.

Mr Farley added: "The statutory agencies always claim they are going to do something about it, but it just takes on a life of its own. They seem to watch what is happening rather than prevent it.

"For example, street drinking is illegal but people can drink in the front section of the houses, so if you have 50 houses on both sides of the street and you maybe have 15 people drinking in each, that is 750 people on each side, they can then spill on to the pavement and the police and council workers are overwhelmed and can't do a thing about it."

South Belfast Green Party candidate Clare Bailey said she understood that many of the revellers were school pupils from outside Belfast, and paid tribute to work Queen's University had been carrying out to raise awareness among young people of the consequences of getting involved with anti-social behaviour.

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said: "We are working with partner agencies to finalise an action plan and we will share this with Partners and Community Together (PACT) at the end of this month."

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