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St Patrick's Day Holyland Belfast: Conduct of most revellers 'very positive'

Police mount high-profile operation to keep peace as behaviour in the area said to be generally been better than in previous years

There was a heavy PSNI presence in the Holyland area of south Belfast on Friday night during St Patrick's Day.

PSNI sources told the Belfast Telegraph that 10 people had been arrested during its operation in central and southern Belfast.

All were for minor public order offences, but a spokesman was unable to quantify how many were made in the Holyland.

Five more people were arrested on Thursday night for minor offences in the area, police said.

South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said official sources had told him that there were three times as many police in the area this year as were on duty in 2016.

But he felt that the cost of policing what has almost become a "rite of passage" for students and their friends, as well as teenage school pupils, would be "money well spent" if it kept a lid on the levels of anti-social behaviour.

Officers had a mobile cell van available in case of trouble.

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As evening fell, Ulster University spokesman Dr Duncan Morrow said things in the area were "lively".

Senior officers said the conduct of most people was very positive.

Behaviour in the area had generally been better than in previous years, they added.

"At the very maximum number, we would have seen a crowd of about 300 or 400," said PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones.

Ray Farley, from the Holyland Residents' Association, said there was a "huge amount of students, young people and non-residents" in the district, adding that it was very noisy. "If it wasn't for the police presence, it would have been a really bad situation for everyone here," said Mr Farley.

"It's not as bad as last year - police are managing to keep it at a level that, while not acceptable, is not serious."

Five local off-licences closed voluntarily for some time yesterday.

But the raucous revellers appeared to have had no difficulty obtaining all the alcohol they wanted.

Street disturbances and anti-social behaviour have previously erupted at this time of year in the area, behind Queen's University, which is packed with student housing.

Both Queen's and Ulster University have said the majority of those who travelled to the flashpoint on previous St Patrick's Days were post-primary pupils or non-students.

Students who are found to have engaged in anti-social behaviour may be dismissed from their studies, Ulster University has warned.

Vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said he was extremely concerned about behaviour by a minority of students in the Holyland.

Several Queen's University and Ulster University students have in the past been disciplined for engaging in anti-social behaviour.

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