Belfast Telegraph

The warnings are heeded as Holyland has a subdued St Patrick’s Day

By Lindsay Fergus

One of Northern Ireland's most notorious flashpoint areas on St Patrick's Day passed off without major incident. Belfast's Holyland, home to thousands of students, enjoyed its quietest March 17 in four years.

Dozens of police officers and more than 60 volunteers patrolled the area to ensure there was no repeat of the violence of 2009 or the drink-fuelled chaos of last year.

On Sunday night, a PSNI spokesman said the force and its partners were “content” with Saturday’s joint operation.

“Compared with previous years, the levels of anti-social behaviour and general disruption to the Holyland area were greatly reduced,” he said.

Officers and wardens were visible on every street for the day.

Up until Sunday night just five students — one from Queen's University and four from University of Ulster — had been arrested by police last week.

It appears that Queen's university's decision to give students the long weekend off to go home coupled with a high profile video campaign by the University of Ulster were effective.

Students from the University of Ulster have been repeatedly warned that anyone found to be involved in antisocial behaviour would be suspended and hauled before a disciplinary hearing at the end of this month.

Landlords in the Holyland had also visited students in the run-up to St Patrick's Day.

Although there were around 200 students in the Holyland on Saturday, the majority drinking, they were generally non-confrontational.

Landlord Declan Boyle said: “It is three years on from 2009, we have moved on and learned from our mistakes.”

As well as a visible presence of police, volunteers from both universities and other agencies, the Holyland was constantly monitored by CCTV.

There were also community safety wardens, noise teams from Belfast City Council, street cleansing and volunteers from City Church collecting hundreds of empty beer bottles and cans.

Although there were students from Belfast Metropolitan College, St Mary's University College, University of Ulster and Queen's in the area, the message about the consequences of trouble appear to have been heard.

Conall McGinty from Belfast Met said: “We received an email from the college telling us to have a good day but warning us not to get involved in any trouble.”

University of Ulster student, Padraig Donnelly, commented: “We have been well warned by email, leaflets, lecturers and we were visited by our landlord.

“I’m not going to do anything to jeopardise my education. I am just going to watch the rugby and enjoy the day.”

Queen's University finance student, Matthew Corr, said: “We are going to watch the rugby. We will not be drinking in the street, we have been well warned.”

Some people from outside the Holyland started to drift into the area in search of a party after the main Belfast parade was completed, but many left disappointed.

Philip Adair from Kircubbin, a plasterer, explained he had come to the Holyland “for a party” but was not looking for trouble.

The 20-year-old said: “We never got any warnings to stay away. It's just good craic. Last year was 100 times better than this. There was a ‘rock the boat’ in the middle of the road. People were allowed to enjoy themselves.”

Conall Lavery from Lurgan explained: “I have been here the last two years and it was rocking.This year it's pants.”

Social media site Twitter also reflected the scene of calm.

One tweet said, “more police than drunks” another, “all quiet in the Holyland so far, a few parties spilling onto streets but there's more police than parties”.

University of Ulster pro vice chancellor Alastair Adair said: “We would hope the firm line taken by the university contributed to the decision by the vast majority of young people to stay away on Saturday and hope it will continue to have an effect.

“The fact that we had no repeat of the disorder in 2009 is no cause for celebration.

“The residents of the Holyland have to endure a lot of unacceptable behaviour from a minority of students throughout the year — not just on St Patrick's Day.”

Queen’s University pro vice chancellor Tony Gallagher said: “Having spent much of the weekend in the area with Queen’s volunteers and other organisations, the multi-agency approach appears to have significantly reduced problems that have been all too common in recent years.

“With fewer houses occupied in the Holyland, those coming into the area looking for parties and places to congregate were disappointed and did not hang around.

“Thankfully, concerns about the weekend turning into a four-day party have not materialised, but we must not be complacent over the next day or two,” he added.

In the Holyland, one person was arrested for possession of Class A drugs, disorderly behaviour, resisting police and assaulting police.

A 19-year-old male will appear at Belfast Magistrate’s Court on April 11.

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