Northern Ireland news

Any Covid-19 housing rules must be fair 'across entirety of Northern Ireland'

Cleaning up in the Holyland area of south Belfast Picture Mal McCann.
David Young, Press Association

Any move to clamp down on house parties in Belfast's Holyland student area must not punish others living in similar accommodation across the north, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Robin Swann raised concerns about a potential inadvertent consequence of targeting coronavirus rules on houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs).

Mr Swann was asked about the ongoing situation in the Holyland which has seen police intervening to break up house parties in breach of restrictions on gatherings in domestic dwellings.

Overnight the PSNI issued 55 Covid notices and eight prohibition notices in the Holyland and nearby Stranmillis areas.

31 notices were issued at one house alone.

Standard Covid-19 regulations that prevent people from different households coming together in domestic settings are not appropriate for student houses where several young people live under the same roof during the university week.

This has prompted calls for specific coronavirus measures for HMOs.

Mr Swann said an enforcement group that was exploring how to address the issues in the Holylands was examining tailored regulations and guidance.

But he said a measure aimed specifically for HMOs would have its challenges.

He highlighted that social housing or accommodation for people in housing need would also be classified as HMO.

"With the specifics of houses of multiple occupancy, there does need to be a care and a caution that any regulation that was brought forward in regards solely based on houses of multiple occupancy was also equitable across the entirety of Northern Ireland," he said.

"Or anybody who was resident in a house of multiple occupancy, should that be not just students in the Holylands, but also those out of social need or lack of housing in certain areas, that they weren't penalised adversely by any regulation or guidance that was brought in specifically to deal with what is anti-social behaviour in the Holylands."

As well as issuing dozens of coronavirus notices last night, police also arrested two people on suspicion of drug possession and assault.

A passing police patrol also flagged down and rendered first aid to a 20-year-old man who was drunk and unconscious.

PSNI Chief Inspector Gavin Kirkpatrick said: "Some people are still failing to follow the very simple, clear and specific advice, guidance and warnings issued by police, the Health Minister, universities and others.

"Our robust policing operation will continue over the coming days with our partner agencies, including representatives from Belfast City Council and both universities.

"Over the weekend, one of the people arrested was 16 years of age, so I would also appeal directly to young people, unless you live in this area, do not come here in search of a party.

"I also appeal to parents and guardians to speak with their young people, to ensure they know where they are, who they are with and what they are doing.

"If you have moved to the Holyland area or are visiting the area, you must adhere to the Health Protection Regulations to protect yourselves and others from Covid-19.

"You must also be good neighbours as the residents of this area should not be subjected or in fear of anti-social or criminal activity."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news