Belfast bids to stop yobs ruining this year’s lights ceremony
Rioters hoping to relive the violence which marred last year’s Belfast Christmas lights switch-on have been told to “catch themselves on” ahead of this year’s event.
Last year rival groups of youths were involved in sectarian clashes which saw vehicles smashed and fires started.
There was speculation the day of the switch-on had been changed from a week night to a Saturday in order to avoid a repeat of such violence.
But this was denied yesterday as organisers claimed the change encouraged a more festive day out for all the family.
Belfast City Centre Manager Andrew Irvine said city centre retailers felt holding the event on a weekday did not make the most of the festivities.
“Businesses were keen to make a day of it for families, so we have a whole host of retailers who are providing all sorts of special offers on the day,” he said.
He said the time of the actual switch-on had also been moved forward so it was firmly a family event, and didn’t go on too late for children to attend.
“The message we are really keen to get out is that the characters and events are very much directed towards children and families,” he said.
Last year the festivities were marred by sectarian violence, which saw rival groups of young people clash in the North Street area.
Windows were broken in two vehicles and fires were started in Castle Street as hundreds of people gathered to watch the Christmas lights being switched on by Bob the Builder.
But East Belfast councillor Robin Newton said this had not influenced the decision to change the event to a Saturday.
“The council very much took the advice of those who were representing the traders in the city, and indeed in these days of economic difficulty we’re mindful that all opportunities should be taken to maximise the potential of the switch-on,” he said.
The DUP councillor said he “hoped” there would not be a repeat of last year’s violence, and those who were entertaining ideas of starting a riot should “wake up and catch themselves on”.
“This is a family day out, a family event where there will be many young children, I can’t see that anyone with a modicum of sense would want to see any child get hurt,” he said.
“I hope they will have learned their lesson from the previous year.”