Viewpoint: Have fun, but plan to get home safely
With just a fortnight to go to Christmas, the party season is getting into full swing and this weekend many people will be having a night out on the town. Restaurants, pubs and night clubs will be thronged this evening as merrymakers, young and not so young, celebrate the festive season.
Although everyone enjoys letting their hair down from time to time, it is important to remember not to let one's guard down. Unfortunately, there are malevolent elements in society who are ready to prey on the vulnerable and unsuspecting.
Recent attacks on women in various parts of Northern Ireland have served to illustrate the risks. A number of horrific rapes of young women - some carried out under cover of darkness - should be a stark warning to everyone of the dangers that can lurk.
Such attacks must be denounced and every effort made to bring the perpetrators to justice. Those who have struck with such brutality pose a danger to society and anyone with information is under an onus to give it to the police.
Although the troubles are over, Northern Ireland is becoming an increasingly violent society. Amnesty International has published figures showing that 390 rapes were reported to police between January and November.
Behind the headline of a rape a day lie many other attacks which go unreported. In many cases victims prefer to suffer in silence than go through the further trauma of a court case. This is regrettable because the culprit goes free, possibly to strike again.
While the full weight of the law should come down on those who would commit such crimes, victims can take precautions which will leave them less vulnerable to attack.
This is the thinking behind the commendable Get Home Safe campaign which has been launched by Belfast City Council and the PSNI. The key is for partygoers to plan in advance how they are going to get home after a night out.
There are various options, such as nominating a designated driver or to use a taxi, always ensuring that it is a registered cab. If there is no alternative but to go home on foot, it is always safer to go in a group, or to remain in mobile phone contact until safely back home.
Nobody wants to spoil the fun, but a few sensible precautions will ensure that everyone can celebrate sensibly and get home without incident.
Since the ceasefires, Northern Ireland in general and Belfast in particular have been enjoying a much improved social life. But while we are all entitled to join in the fun, the key to a successful night out is to enjoy the craic and relax - but always remain alert.