New powers to curb St Patrick’s Day drinking in Belfast's Holyland sunk by Stormont shutdown
A plan to give Belfast City Council staff powers to both confiscate alcohol and issue fines to those drinking in public places has failed due to the collapse of Stormont.
However, a three-day operation involving a major police presence, council workers, street pastors and mobile security cameras will still swing into action for this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations in Belfast.
The city's Holyland student area has become infamous in recent years for the large crowds of young people taking part in anti-social behaviour - to the distress of other residents.
Details of the multi-agency operation, which will be discussed at a meeting of the council's people and communities committee tonight, reveal that council officers looked into how they could tackle on-street drinking.
It comes after a motion to the committee was tabled which said that the current by-law on drinking on Belfast's streets is proving "wholly ineffective".
City Hall approached Northern Ireland's Department of Justice about extending the powers that PSNI officers have to confiscate alcohol to council officers.
The council also wanted its staff to have the power to issue fixed penalty notices for those drinking in public.
But this effort failed because there are no ministers at Stormont to pass such legislation.
City council minutes, due to be presented to the people and communities committee this evening, state: "Given the absence of ministers and current situation in the Northern Ireland Assembly, amendments to, and the creation of, additional legislation is not an available option at present".
Ray Farley of the Holyland Regeneration Association said there are a number of legislative tools that would be useful, but they cannot be passed because Stormont is not sitting.
He pointed out that council workers can issue on-the-spot fines if they catch someone dropping litter on the street, but if they see someone drop a beer can in the Holyland area they must bring them to court to prosecute them.
"There are a number of things that Stormont could do, a number of pieces of legislation that have not been adopted in Northern Ireland yet that could be helpful," he said.
"For example police (in Great Britain) can refuse entry to people into an area, but this has not reached Northern Ireland."
Meanwhile, the committee will also hear about a planned three day operation from March 15-17.
There is no indication of the total cost of the multi-agency operation in the minutes, although it is described as "significant".
It aims to reduce anti-social behaviour, particularly in the Holyland, reduce the number of people in the area, and cut the amount of alcohol being brought in and consumed, as well as providing a clean-up across the city.
Last year, in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Irish News, the PSNI said that it does not know how much it spent on policing south Belfast's Holyland area on St Patrick's Day.
This year's policing operation is planned to be on a similar scale to the "significant police presence" in 2017.
Council officers will take part in a three day operation patrolling the Holyland and wider university area, as well as dealing with noise complaints across the city.
Queen's University and Ulster University staff have been visiting students to remind them about "appropriate levels of behaviour", and on St Patrick's Day both institutions will deploy a team of volunteers and officials to engage with students.
Street pastors, a number of landlords and the SOS bus team, who help vulnerable people on the street, will also be on hand to assist on St Patrick's Day.
Mr Farley praised the efforts of the council and police ahead of this year's St Patrick's Day, but said it will be impossible to know how the day will go due to the many factors involved.