An SDLP councillor and landlord has been blasted after he described the behaviour of students who made life a misery for residents living in The Holylands area as “lively”.
Declan Boyle compared the activities of drunken students with Northern Ireland football fans who partied in France or those who took part in Culture Night in Belfast last week.
South Belfast residents’ groups voiced their fury this week after students celebrating Freshers’ Week created chaos with partying on the street, damaging cars, throwing missiles at houses and smashing glass in the early hours of Monday and Tuesday morning.
It has also been claimed that students were hurling racist abuse at residents.
Holyland Regeneration Association chair Ray Farley said they felt let down by the authorities, after being “promised so much” after a chaotic St Patrick’s Day in the area.
Belfast City Council said it responded to more than 150 incident reports, 22 students have been referred to their respective universities and five incidents, including rowdy behaviour, have been referred to the PSNI.
Culture Night took place across Belfast city centre last Friday evening and featured musical performances, art installations and dramatic performances.
Mr Boyle said: “I went into town last Friday night [for Culture Night] and people were doing exactly the same. There was, singing, drinking in the street, making plenty of a noise and left a mess behind them.” The organiser of Culture Night, Adam Turkington, said there could be no comparison.
“Culture Night is a family friendly, professionally managed arts event involving hundreds of arts organisations, businesses, and community groups from across the city that is over by 10pm,” he said.
“We have hundreds of staff and volunteers working hard to control the event in a non-residential area.
“The comparison is disrespectful both to our team and the people who are inconvenienced by the situation in The Holylands.”
Trouble in The Holylands area — where many students who study at Queen’s University, Ulster University and Belfast Metropolitan College live — has been an ongoing issue for almost two decades. Ulster University revealed it has disciplined 228 students in the 2015/16 academic year over incidents in the area.
Belfast Metropolitan College said none of its students had been involved in this week’s disturbances, and that the number across the last academic year was very small. Queen’s University last night did not respond to requests to supply its equivalent figures.
In a joint statement, Queen’s University and Ulster University said they, along with colleges, work throughout the year to “build positive relationships with local resident and community groups in The Holylands”.
They added: “We have a comprehensive programme of work in place to educate and support students living as part of the local community and we work in close partnership with the PSNI and Belfast City Council.
“All institutions are committed to taking robust disciplinary action if their students are reported for anti-social behaviour.”
Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said a significant policing operation is being implemented in The Holylands.