Students warned ‘stay away from the Holyland’ on St Patrick’s Day

Students are being warned to stay away from the Holyland area of south Belfast as police pledge a bigger policing operation will be in place in a bid to prevent disorder.

It has been years since drunken disturbances broke out into riots in the area, but even last year a police officer was injured during minor trouble on St Patrick's night.

Measures have been taken to try and ensure the festivities are peaceful, with both universities giving students the days off and off-licences shutting shop.

Local church elder June Gamble says people are concerned about what may happen.

“We recognise that people want to celebrate but we hope that they will do it responsibly and I'm glad to hear that the universities and even the off-licences this year are trying to do something to reduce the activity in the area,” she said.

“I would say have fun with your friends in the area where you live, there's no need to come here and add extra difficulty for the local people and residents and students who want to enjoy themselves in a responsible way.”

The officer in charge of policing the area, Superintendent Melanie Jones, said the operation will be bigger than last year.

“My message is to stay away from the Holylands, if you want to come to Belfast to celebrate the St Patrick’s Day events, there are managed events in the city centre, I would invite everyone to come and enjoy the celebrations in an appropriate, lawful and reasonable manner,” she said.

Supt Jones continued: “We’ll deal in an appropriate way to prevent misery being caused to our community and our residents. I’d say to troublemakers that you’ve got no place in any of the celebratory events of St Patrick’s Day, that your behaviour and actions are inappropriate and unwanted, and will be dealt with by police and partnership.

“We’ll be taking a proportionate and appropriate approach, the officers on the ground are skilled and experience, we have a range of options available to us, and well deal with things in the most appropriate way at the time. But if people need to be arrested, then they will be arrested.”

Both universities are also sending out the message for young people to spend the days they have been given off elsewhere.

David Jones, from Queen’s University, said: “My message to all students would be to stay away from the Holylands area on St Patrick’s Day, and that means if you are at home on your reading days, please stay and enjoy St Patrick’s there or perhaps go to another venue away from the Holylands to enjoy the celebrations.

“Nobody wants to see anti-social behaviour on the streets. It can have damaging consequences for students when it comes to employment and beyond so we would love it if it was a very quiet day and there was no events here at all.”

Duncan Morrow from Ulster University said: “We’ve given people three days to go home so they actually do go home and leave the area.

“We’ve put out messages that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated, we’ve worked very closely with the police and also the off-licences have closed so the message is this is not the place for a party, enjoy yourself on St Patrick’s Day but the Holylands is not a place for a party.

“The university has committed, as we have been for years to taking this very seriously. Anybody who comes to the attention of the police, we will take disciplinary action against them.”