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Belfast council has 'graduated response' to Holylands disorder

St Patrick's Day in the Holylands in south Belfast earlier this year. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

BELFAST City Council has defended not issuing any fines last month for on-street drinking in the Holylands, saying it adopted a "graduated response".

It said this involved advising students of the law during the freshers' period and "warning them that they could be prosecuted" for anti-social behaviour.

But permanent residents in the mainly student area branded it "all talk" and called for tougher action from the authorities.

The term "graduated response" was memorably used in 2014 by unionist parties to describe their plans to show opposition to Parades Commission restrictions on a July 12 march in north Belfast.

The joint approach fell apart just months later, with smaller parties walking away and critics branding it a "soundbite designed to appease and buy time".

Residents have for years complained of problems in the Holylands caused by drink-fuelled students.

In one incident recently, a couple awoke to find cheese smeared across their front door on Rugby Road following residents' complaints about students making excessive noise.

The council revealed zero fines were issued during September for on-street drinking in a freedom of information response to resident Ben McClelland.

Mr McClelland (40), who lives in the neighbourhood with his girlfriend, said: "We're very disappointed. It's one of the issues that really plagues the area."

He added: "The 'graduated response' seems to be to do nothing. I haven't seen any evidence of them doing anything proactive to address concerns – it's all talk."

Mr McClelland said most students are "well behaved", but that the main issue was a "lack of planning over many years, creating a student village in what was a residential area".

"Honestly it's not good enough. We have these problems year after year and they're highlighted to the council time and time again," he said.

"The residents have asked for help and we do need help, because it's a blight on our lives."

Belfast council said its staff dealt with more than 140 incidents in the Holylands during September, but most resulted in advice or warnings being issued.

A spokesman said: "Belfast City Council worked closely with the PSNI, the university authorities and other statutory agencies during the period around Freshers' Week.

"We adopted a graduated response, advising the students of the law in relation to anti-social behaviour, including on street drinking, and of the consequences should they be caught breaching the law.

"Generally, the students were compliant with the advice, and followed directions given to them by council officers."

He added: "In relation to on-street drinking, as of October 3 there have been no prosecutions. The PSNI are also authorised officers under the council's alcohol bye-laws and it is possible that they may yet submit statements for on-street drinking offences detected by them in the Holylands area during September 2017 for action by the council. This can take some time."

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