More than 370 students disciplined last term
A South Belfast community worker has reiterated a call for purpose built student housing, after new figures show anti-social behaviour is continuing.
Queen’s University and the University of Ulster have revealed that at least 370 students were disciplined during the first term of the academic year.
And one of the areas bearing the brunt of their behaviour is the Holy Land, which witnessed fierce street rioting on St Patrick’s Day last year, resulting in 12 arrests.
But Ray Farley, chairman of Belfast Holy Land Regeneration Association, said anti-social activity was not just confined to certain times of the year.
He explained that when term started in September community safety wardens, regularly operating since January 2006, had not yet been deployed.
“They weren’t out on the streets until just before Halloween, which meant the start of term was quite noisy,” said Mr Farley.
“By that time I think some students simply believed they could get away with bad behaviour and at Halloween police issued around 20 fixed penalty tickets for jay walking.
“With so many wardens patrolling, an increased police presence and the cold weather in the lead up to Christmas, the area was then relatively quiet.”
However, Mr Farley said that during the past few weeks students in the Holy Land were once again becoming unruly.
“We are now concerned about what will happen in the run up to St Patrick’s Day,” he explained.
“The PSNI has said officers will do their utmost to make sure they keep a lid on everything and the wardens will also be on patrol.
“But it only takes one person to start a fight which can erupt into total chaos.”
Mr Farley believes the long term answer to the problem is large scale, purpose built accommodation for students in the city centre.
He pointed out that many universities in other cities already supply this type of housing.
“There are certainly a lot of car parking areas on the Dublin Road, for example, which would be suitable for this purpose,” he said.
“These are non-residential streets and their presence wouldn’t bother anyone.”
And as St Patrick’s Day approaches, both Queen’s University (QUB) and the University of Ulster have vowed to do all they can to keep students out of trouble.
Plans are currently being drawn up to stage a student festival on the day.
A spokesman for the University of Ulster said they had been working with other concerned parties to ensure students were aware of the importance of good community relations over the St Patrick’s Day period.
“Senior staff, student sabbaticals and chaplains from the University of Ulster and QUB, plus BCC (Belfast City Council) community wardens and PSNI representatives will be present in the Holy Lands area on St Patrick’s Day,” he said.
“We want to take this opportunity to assure residents and public representatives that an extensive programme of events and awareness activities is in place for students in the Holy Lands area over the period.
“Our message is a simple one — we want our students to enjoy themselves responsibly on this traditional holiday period.
“But we will also make sure that they are fully aware of the consequences of any behaviour which brings the University into disrepute.”
Said a Queen’s University spokeswoman: “The St Patrick’s Day Student Festival is a tangible example of the commitment by both universities to help enhance and cement community relations through a series of positive activities, to make the holiday period an enjoyable and peaceful one.
“This year’s programme aims to get people ‘off the street’ by offering the opportunity to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in a relaxed and friendly environment at a range of social, musical and cultural events.”
She reinforced the warning that students will face the consequences for any disruptive behaviour.