Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Stormont's no help in tackling St Patrick's Day disorder

Editor's Viewpoint

In nearly all parts of the world where St Patrick's Day is celebrated there is the anticipation of fun and enjoyment, but in the Holyland of Belfast there is a dread of what might happen each year, given the drunkenness and disorder recently.

To combat this, the authorities have planned a three-day operation this year to enable people to have a good time.

This will involve a significant police presence, the presence of council workers and pastors, and the use of mobile CCTV services.

All of this sounds promising, but astonishingly Belfast City Council is unable to confiscate alcohol and issue spot fines to those over-indulging in public places.

This is because Stormont is not sitting and there are no ministers to pass additional legislation to enable the council to use some very sensible additional powers to curb drinking by those who make the St Patrick celebrations a miserable time for everyone else.

Year after year the situation in the Holyland makes all the wrong headlines. In recent times the PSNI have been accused of "two-tier policing" in which officers have been accused of less severe measures in the flashpoint areas of the Holyland than in other areas nearby, including the Ormeau Road.

The university authorities have reminded students, who should know better, of "appropriate levels of behaviour" and are using staff and volunteers to engage with them on St Patrick's Day.

These steps are to be welcomed, but significantly the universities have so far drawn back from using draconian measures to punish student misbehaviour, including rustication.

Given such an unhappy background in recent years, it beggars belief that the city council is now legally unable to take stronger on-the-spot measures to curb drinking, because there is no-one at Stormont to ratify the additional legislation required to do so. Once again, the dysfunction of Stormont is there for all to see. The people of Northern Ireland voted for an effective administration to run this place properly and to deal with issues such as health, education and infrastructure.

Instead, we find that Stormont cannot even provide powers to the city council to help curb drunkenness among students on St Patrick's Day.

It is further proof that we have sunk to a new low, some 20 years after the high hopes of the Good Friday Agreement promised so much.

Belfast Telegraph

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