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Angry residents in Belfast's Holyland demand action after 3,600 complaints about students in four years


Police monitor the crowds in the Holyland during recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Police monitor the crowds in the Holyland during recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Police monitor the crowds in the Holyland during recent St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Nearly 3,600 complaints about student behaviour were made to our two universities in a four-year period.

People raised concerns over a range of off-campus incidents including antisocial behaviour, excessive noise and disorder - much of it fuelled by alcohol.

Between 2015 and 2019 a total of 3,566 student misconduct incidents were reported to Ulster University (UU) and Queen's University (QUB).

UU had more than double the overall number of complaints, recording 2,510 misconduct reports compared to QUB's 1,056 over the same period.

The figures were obtained after a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper.

UU and QUB each have a student population of around 24,000, with the former including all its campuses - Belfast, Jordanstown, Magee and Coleraine - in the FoI request.

The statistics come as universities prepare for the St Patrick's Day festivities, which have seen trouble in the Holyland area of south Belfast in recent years.

However, residents say problems with student behaviour are a year-round issue, and the figures obtained by this newspaper are merely the tip of the iceberg.

In December a traffic accident in one of its streets turned into a street party as students gathered at the scene, played music and drank alcohol.

Hundreds of bystanders gathered in Jerusalem Street as emergency responders attempted to free a woman trapped in a car.

The Holyland area, where many properties are rented, has long been popular with students.

Last week a report said that despite the swathe of purpose-built student accommodation in Belfast, the Holyland remains a draw for students to live.

The Holyland Transition Study, authored by Ulster University Professor Paddy Gray, said there is "little evidence to support the view there will be large scale movement of students out of the Holyland".

The south Belfast streets are often the epicentre of chaos during St Patrick's Day and the annual university freshers' celebration. Two years ago 17 people were arrested following widespread disorder on March 17.

Brid Ruddy, who chairs the College Park Avenue Residents' Association, said: "It's the tip of the iceberg. It's not the full picture."

She explained how incidents of student misconduct are also reported to other bodies and authorities, such as Belfast City Council, the PSNI and the Community Safety Partnership, which will make the overall statistics much higher.

"A lot of criminal damage goes unreported," she added.

"Wing mirrors and wipers are pulled off on a daily basis, but what happens is that owners decide to pay the repairs themselves rather than put it through their insurance and deal with the excess."

The figures show the number of incidents has fallen slightly year on year following campaigns by the universities and the PSNI. In 2015/16, 931 incidents were reported, compared to 868 in 2018/19.

Both universities said they fully investigate any complaints or reports of antisocial behaviour received as part of their respective disciplinary procedures.

The PSNI said it deals with each report in a variety of ways, such as issuing a penalty or community restorative notice, or making official referrals to the universities. Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said: "We have consistently asked young people living in rented accommodation and visitors to the area to look after themselves, their property, to respect the area, and highlighted the need to be good neighbours."

Mr Kirkpatrick acknowledged the actions of some students have an adverse impact on residents, but stressed "significant work" is being done to address this.

"Local police constantly patrol and respond to calls for assistance in the area, but far too many calls are from residents who feel frightened, or are just fed up with the behaviour of some young people, who I very much doubt would behave in the same manner in their own home or community," he added.

"Police have a presence at university freshers' events to provide both crime prevention information and safety advice for students in the area.

"While we do not want to see young people gaining a criminal record, we deal with every report and every incident in a proportionate manner."

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said it continues to work in partnership with the PSNI, the universities and other statutory agencies.

However, Ms Ruddy said the current strategy undertaken by both institutions and stakeholders is "not effective" in tackling the problem.

She added: "We want some form of community restorative justice introduced. The issues are not being resolved."

Belfast Telegraph

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