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Proper policing totally lacking in Holylands havoc

By Gail Walker

Published 22/03/2016

The morning after the night before in the Holylands, Belfast
The morning after the night before in the Holylands, Belfast

The scenes from the Holylands last week were an orgy of self-indulgence, thuggery and total disdain for the rights of other people.

But it wasn't surprising. It was just more gross than previous years. A naked man wrapped in the Tricolour running about the street, thugs destroying cars, windows broken, children terrified and innocent residents intimidated.

This, when you think about it, is the essence of much of modern life. People cowed by selfishness, rudeness and a general menace - all in the name of "fun". If you ever want to experience the fug of fear on display last week, you don't have to wait for next St Patrick's Day.

Just walk around our dilapidated Golden Mile when the clubs are closing. Board the last train on a Saturday night. Better yet, wait until the Eleventh Night. As a general rule in Northern Ireland, whenever there is a crowd observing cultural "traditions", you can guarantee two things: lots of booze and lots of trouble.

The main reason is, of course, that we have a culture which is totally sodden in drink. How do you have a "good time" in Northern Ireland? You get "full". On a communal level "it's St Paddy's Day", or "but it's the Twelfth". Complain and you're a sour beak.

We were to develop a Continental attitude to booze: visions of sophisticated spritzer drinkers sitting outside cafes in loafers and Panama hats, browsing tattered copies of Camus and Sartre while happy children weaved in and out of the tables catching butterflies.

Alas, we forgot that Belfast isn't Rome. And when in Belfast you continue doing what Belfast people always do. Drink until you fall over.

It's all just a bit of fun and this word "craic", which - like the word "banter" - has become an excuse for offensive behaviour.

Where "banter" is a cover for crude, sexist, racist stereotyping, "craic" is a cover for alcohol-driven wildness, which, if it were fuelled by drugs rather than friendly old booze, would have everyone up in arms, instead of just those directly damaged by it.

Hence, those who claim the Holylands mayhem is "only a bit of craic" and those who are outraged by it are humourless killjoys. What people are meant to do is "remember when they were young" - and trashing houses, gardens, cars and people presumably - and just shut their mouths.

But we need to admit we will never win against people who want to get full, urinate in your garden and jump on top of your car singing what are euphemistically known as "party songs", because we have no effective sanction against them.

Worse, the authorities seem determined to bend over backwards to "understand" the troublemakers. Last week the PSNI stood round, largely unable (or unwilling?) to do anything. Our universities dragged their feet for days "monitoring" the situation and promising "robust" action, but hastening to point out that the majority of the troublemakers weren't students. Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry will visit the area and listen to residents' concerns... several days after the bedlam.

What are we to make of a PSNI spokesperson describing the trouble as "hugely disappointing"? After expressing sadness that young people may end up with a nasty criminal conviction on their CV, the spokesman concluded: "No one is a winner in this and I appreciate people want to enjoy themselves and have fun, but they've got to do so responsibly and, in particular, drink responsibly."

What? Maybe we are also "hugely disappointed" by burglary, "hugely disappointed" by being assaulted in the street, "dismayed" at not being able to get to work? Perhaps we can expect police officers to appear in court weeping as some violent miscreant is sent down for "disappointing" behaviour.

The pattern here has been set now for so long that the failure to address the issues at the time can no longer be regarded as accidental. There is behind this some misguided policy of "doing nothing", because it will soon pass, like bad weather and bird flu. Each time, our authorities appear to be taken by total surprise and by the time they are called to account the emergency has passed.

Phew! Made it again.

Our leaders need to get angry on our behalf, to act "robustly" and not just talk about it. We need more than cute silences when it's "our sort" or "the other sort" running amok. Be they covered in Union Jacks, Tricolours, or just milling around in a commendably integrated fashion on our Golden Mile, these hooligans need to be stopped.

If they were dodging TV licences, they'd be named and shamed in the local papers and slapped with hefty fines.

This isn't a call for "hardline" policing. It's for proper policing, for more responsible university sanctions. It's for actual arrests and punishments in the courts.

It's a call, in short, for normality.

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