The annual sectarian and alcohol spree in the Holylands

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

There are few societies in which young people do not let off steam or behave wildly on occasion.

But a particular problem has become entrenched in the Holylands area of Belfast on St Patrick’s Day.

This year’s trouble began early yesterday, when more than 300 people gathered in the streets near Queen’s University.

This was no innocent revelry. A police man was injured and property was damaged.

Agincourt Avenue was blocked off and bottles were thrown and residents were left anxious.

Over a period of decades, long term residents have gradually left the Holylands area or died out. Those who remain are particularly isolated when this sort of conduct happens.

The annual March 17 mayhem is ugly and often sectarian, with republican songs being sung.

It is sad that Queen’s University has long seemed such a monocultural environment that students with non republican sympathies tend to keep their head down.

This gets much worse on St Patrick’s Day, which in the Holylands mirrors the sectarian behaviour in Belfast city centre.

But sectarianism was only one element to the problem – the misbehaviour was fuelled by alcohol.

Binge drinking is a problem in both Britain and Ireland and knows no tribal boundaries. The Twelfth celebrations in Belfast are marred by excessive alcohol intake and people urinating in sidestreets or on private property, as happened in the Holylands this week.

On the Twelfth it is particularly unfortunate given the temperance tradition associated with the loyal orders. Turning around cultures of bad behaviour that are widespread will not happen tomorrow, or in a year from now. It takes decades or even centuries. But we can get tough and make examples of the worst offenders with harsh sentences from the courts and in an extreme case perhaps even expulsion from university.