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Belfast Holyland Covid-19 hotspot fears grow as summer heat ramps up on-street parties

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PSNI officers attempt to disperse on-street party goers in the Holyland area

PSNI officers attempt to disperse on-street party goers in the Holyland area

PSNI officers attempt to disperse on-street party goers in the Holyland area

Belfast's student heartland could become a "Covid-19 hotspot" because of large crowds partying and causing trouble, residents fear.

The stark warning comes after a night of mayhem involving hundreds of people in the Holyland.

Locals say the problem has been increasing night by night.

Two men were arrested in connection with the latest disorder, which saw house parties spill out onto the streets.

Police said they were called to the scene in the Agincourt Avenue area at around 1.50am yesterday to find "that large crowds of people were partying, singing, and generally causing a disturbance".

"It seems that various house parties had extended to the street," a PSNI spokesperson added.

Officers spoke to several people and the crowds later dispersed.

Footage from the scene showed hundreds of people singing, dancing and drinking on the streets - while flagrantly flouting social distancing rules.

Brid Ruddy, chair of College Park Avenue Residents' Association, said trouble in the area has been escalating recently.

"This trouble has been accumulating for a number of weeks, pretty much since the start of the Covid pandemic. The best way I can describe what happened last night is that there were several riots on the streets," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"About 500 to 600 people were partying in the area, setting things on fire, jumping on cars and fighting. We're supposed to be in the middle of a pandemic, yet all this is going on. There are real fears the Holyland could turn into a Covid-19 hotspot, because none of the social-distancing rules are being followed.

"With all the pubs closed, there are just house parties happening every night. The police response has been almost non-existent, they give warnings and move people on, but then it just starts up again."

Ms Ruddy said more action needs to be taken by the PSNI, Belfast City Council, landlords, universities and parents to clamp down on the problems.

She said that, if more robust enforcement was taken weeks ago, the recent trouble could have been avoided.

"Landlords also have a lot to answer for, when the pandemic hit, students weren't allowed out of their leases," she added.

"This has led to a situation where university hasn't been happening, students are at home with their parents, bored because everything is closed, and they think, 'Why don't we all just head to the Holyland and party?' Because the houses have been leased and are just sitting there, and landlords aren't doing anything about it.

"And what about parents? Surely some of them should be asking where there kids are and what they're doing. There's loads that travel down here and don't even live here. They just come for the parties.

"We residents are absolutely tortured, this place is turning into Benidorm."

Police said two men were arrested on suspicion of a number of offences in relation to the trouble, including disorderly behaviour, and are in police custody.

"Officers are appealing to those responsible to think about the consequences of their actions and to consider the impact of ending up with a criminal record, which has all sorts of consequences," the PSNI spokesperson said.

Residents told the Belfast Telegraph of what they repeatedly witness.

Michael Carter lives in the Holyland and night after night he waits for it to kick off.

He said: "First thing in the morning I check the weather forecast. You know something's going to happen if it's not going to rain. We're hoping for rain every day.

"Last night you would have thought you were in Ayia Napa, party central.

"We had two or three weeks at the start of lockdown when things were calm, but it's been building. Students are coming back, but they're not coming back to study, they're coming back to party and they're bringing their friends. We've had mirrors broken off cars, vehicles damaged. To anyone living here it's obvious the authorities simply can't control it. We call the police, they come, then it all starts again."

Anne McMurray lives in Rugby Avenue, and has reported a house to the authorities for parties 30 times this year.

"Some days you're angry, some days you've given up, most days you're just plain tired from having no sleep. That's the life we're leading and unless you live here you won't understand," she said.

"I watched last night as a young mum in Damascus Street watched out of her window with her children at what was going on outside her home. That's no life for anyone.

"We've seen some of the young people kicking in the glass in the telephone box across the road and picking up the glass to threaten each other.

"And all the time we're told to just call the police. I think they just want us to give up and go away, but these are homes and our lives under attack night after night.

"We had a lovely three weeks when lockdown started, but gradually the students and young people have been coming back.

"To us it seems like they have free rein to do as they please.

"We see them stumble from one house party to another, usually because the drugs or the drink has run out."

She added: "There are three or four houses in particular that we have reported over 30 times and I live next door to one of them. I can't even go out the back of my house. There are bin bags and rubbish piled up there. There's a wall of flies and surely that should even be looked at as a health hazard?"

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: "We work in partnership with the PSNI, universities and other statutory agencies to tackle these issues."

Police have asked anyone with information to contact them on 101, quoting reference number 111 of 26/06/20. Information can also be given anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Belfast Telegraph