Northern Ireland

Five off-licences to close for a number of hours on St Patrick's Day

ST PATRICKS
Image caption A crowd of up to 300 people gathered in the mainly student Holyland area during St Patrick's Day in 2016

Five off-licences in Belfast's Holyland area are to close "voluntarily" for a number of hours on St Patrick's Day.

Following discussions with the PSNI, they will close from 16:00 -21:00 GMT on 17 March.

There were a number of disturbances in the area over the St Patrick's Day holiday in 2016.

In a statement, the PSNI said that the arrangement was made "to help keep people safe".

Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University have also written to their students urging them not to travel to the area, or to behave responsibly if they do.

Alcohol seized and anti-social behaviour

Figures obtained from Belfast City Council by the Irish News show that more than 30,000 alcohol units were seized on the streets of Belfast's Holyland between 2014 and 2016.

That is equivalent to 15,000 cans of beer, the paper says.

Over the same period, the council received 1,846 complaints of anti-social behaviour, including drunken behaviour, noise caused by partying and "groups and gangs gathering".

The street for which most complaints were received was Jerusalem Street, with 268 over the three years.

Classes at both universities have been cancelled on Wednesday 15 March and Thursday 16 March.

Both of those days have been designated as "reading days" for students instead.

The universities will then be closed on 17 March.

'Stop deliveries'

The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, welcomed the move by the off-licences.

"I have sympathy with residents," he said, "who have been subjected to unacceptable behaviour on St Patrick's Day, year after year."

Image caption The chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, welcomed the move

"However, I also have sympathy for the local off-sales and commend them for voluntarily agreeing to close."

'Fuelling of drink'

"I call on the supermarkets to match the actions of the local off-sales and stop deliveries of alcohol into the Holyland area on St Patrick's Day and the day before."

Ray Farley from the Holyland regeneration association also gave the move a cautious welcome.

"It's a welcome first step and if we can get it for a half day this year we can maybe get a full day for other years," he said.

Image caption Ray Farley from the Holyland regeneration association also gave the move a cautious welcome.

"It's drink that's the problem, and the fuelling of drink."

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