'Bus-loads' shipped in to view properties and 'Drop the Heineken' game torturing residents
Fears are mounting that the Easter weekend is going to bring huge disruption to the Holyland after hundreds of young people once again partied in the south Belfast student area on Tuesday night.
In footage shot by the Belfast Telegraph during the revelry, sectarian chanting - for the IRA - can be heard along with loud singing.
Residents are now calling on the PSNI to take action similar to St Patrick’s Day, when officers flooded the Holyland streets and prevented mass breaching of the Covid-19 regulations.
Since then, however, the situation has deteriorated significantly, and beleaguered residents have expressed concern that it can only get worse in the run-up to Easter, especially in the light of the Public Prosecution Service’s ruling that no prosecutions would take place in relation to last year’s Bobby Storey funeral.
One resident told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s a free-for-all now, after that decision. Lockdown’s over — not that it was ever recognised here.”
In a statement, police confirmed that they had received reports of “several hundred people drinking and partying” in the area and had subsequently broke up gatherings and issued fines.
Denise Caldwell, who lives in a building on Fitzroy Avenue that also houses elderly people, told the Belfast Telegraph that there were at least six parties in her street on Tuesday night.
“We’re extremely worried about what’s going to happen over coming days,” she said.
“Now that there is a question mark around the robustness of the Covid laws, we would like the police to treat what’s happening here as anti-social behaviour and act accordingly before it spirals out of control.”
She added: “In my street alone I counted at least six house parties from early evening. We also watched hundreds of young people leave the park, with what looked like bottles of alcohol, and come to the Holyland.”
PSNI Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said a total of 11 Covid fines were issued to those flouting the rules.
“We received reports of several hundred people drinking and partying in Botanic Park at around 5.30pm on Tuesday afternoon,” he said.
“Officers attended to gather evidence and to engage with the crowds in order to clear the park which was closed by 7.20pm.
“Further reports were then received throughout the evening of anti-social behaviour in the Holylands area. Officers attended on a number of occasions to disperse various groups of people.”
The Chief Inspector added: “Shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning, officers attended a property at Colenso Parade, following reports of an ongoing party.
“Seven COV 4 tickets and four COV 2 tickets were issued to persons at the property before moving them on. Regular patrols with evidence gathering capability continued in the area throughout the night and local officers will now be making follow-up enquiries.
“It is disappointing that we are still getting reports of anti-social behaviour in this residential area and we will continue to liaise with the universities, colleges and other partners to address this issue and indeed, where appropriate, the universities and colleges may consider their own sanctions against any students involved.”
He added: “We still need everyone to work together to adhere to the Health Regulations so we can continue to keep people safe and protect our communities during these continuously difficult times.”
Full-time residents of the Holyland said there was an influx of hundreds of young people at the start of the week, as “bus-loads were being shipped in to view properties in the area”.
Brid Ruddy, chair of Holyland Residents’ Network, said she believes there is a “whole underground social media movement dedicated to organised parties”, hence the ongoing anti-social problems.
In a disturbing new twist, this newspaper received video footage of beer bottles being thrown from windows of houses at passers-by during a party as part of a bizarre game called ‘Drop the Heineken’.
“They were throwing bottles of beer out the window at people,” said Ms Caldwell, who witnessed the game in action.
“If someone caught a bottle everyone cheered, and they were allowed to keep the drink. If, on the other hand, the bottle smashed they just left the broken glass lying on the road.”
She added: “Parties have been going on throughout the pandemic. We’re all sick, sore and tired of them.”
Other full-time Holyland residents said they have had verbal abuse hurled at them, and their vehicles damaged.
Retired mental health nurse Kevin Houston, who lives in Rugby Avenue, said he is thinking about moving away after 40 years. “Landlords are bringing young people from across the country to show them houses,” he said.
“We’re seeing 12 people queuing up outside properties, not wearing masks and there’s no social distancing.”
Mr Houston added: “You can’t intervene; previously I’ve been told to f*** off, that this is Partyland.
“The big worry is that they’re getting these houses now so that they can party all summer.”