Belfast Telegraph

Challenging policing operation looms on packed St Patrick’s Day in Belfast

By Rebecca Black

The PSNI is preparing a "complex" operation for this year's St Patrick's Day in Belfast to tackle any public disorder around the traditional festivities - as well as a loyalist flag protest, three band parades and a Linfield-Glentoran clash.

In addition, tomorrow will see a 10k race in the morning and large crowds flooding into Belfast city centre pubs in the afternoon to watch the Six Nations match, which could see Ireland clinch the Grand Slam over rival England.

Superintendent Robert Murdie described March 17 as a "really complex policing day".

The main focus for police attention is expected to be around the annual St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast city centre from 11.30am, followed by a concert at Custom House Square.

And later that afternoon arch Belfast rivals Linfield and Glentoran will play at the National Stadium.

The PSNI will also be aiming to prevent a repeat of disorder seen in the city centre and the Holyland student area in south Belfast in previous years.

But officers will also be called on to police a loyalist flag protest at City Hall in the afternoon and three band parades - including Purple Star Flute Band's parade in the Shankill area at 6pm and two parades in east Belfast at 6pm and 7pm.

"March 17 itself is a really complex policing day for ourselves and our partners in council and at the universities due to a high number of events on in the city," said Mr Murdie.

A multi-agency three-day operation is currently under way in Belfast ahead of St Patrick's Day.

It involves police, Belfast City Council and the two universities, Queen's and Ulster, and aims to reduce anti-social behaviour, particularly in the Holyland area, where many students live.

Council officers are patrolling the Holyland and wider university area, as well as dealing with noise complaints across the city.

In previous years there has been significant anti-social behaviour and vast crowds of young people, often intoxicated, gathering in both the city centre and the Holyland.

Mr McMurdie said the PSNI believe the joined up approach has been "evolving and improving" over the last number of years.

He pointed out that last year 15 arrests were made on St Patrick's Day in Belfast, down on 20 arrests the previous year.

Last year, police were attacked with bottles and other missiles in the Holyland when a street party involving around 300 young people descended into chaos.

"Alongside our partners, we are working hard to dispel the popular perception among young people that the Holyland area is a key party destination on St Patrick's Day.

"It is not," Mr McMurdie said.

"Our message to young people is to celebrate the holiday away from the residential streets of the Holyland area, for their own safety but also to protect local children, older people and other residents who are feeling particularly vulnerable as this St Patrick's Day approaches.

"Parents and guardians really need to know where their young people are going and if they are planning to celebrate St Patrick's Day in Belfast, that they only attend officially organised events and stay away from the Holyland area.

"We are keen to ensure that all young people are aware of the risks associated with anti-social behaviour, for their safety and future educational and career prospects."

Belfast Telegraph

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