A charity is calling on parents not to let their children travel to Belfast for St Patrick’s Day due to risks of life-threatening alcohol and drug abuse – and clashes with the PSNI.
SOS NI says it is bracing itself to work alongside police and ambulance services during the celebrations, with specially equipped vehicles and foot patrols in the city on Tuesday to provide first aid.
In 2009 rioting by hundreds of young people in the Holylands area of the city saw several police officers injured and 12 arrests.
In 2012 eight people were arrested, with policing costs exceeding £100,000.
Chief executive of SOS NI, Joe Hyland, told the News Letter: “I would love it if parents realised the issues in the Holylands area and said to their children ‘I want you at home instead’.”
He added: “St Patrick’s Day is a wonderful day to enjoy each other’s company. But three to five years ago young people who were mainly not from the area were winding up the police and setting fire to wheelie bins, leading to extreme violence.
“Things have been improving in recent years but the problem has been exacerbated by young people, not all of them students, coming up from the country. Many of them are away from all parental control for the first time. This ended up with a dozen people taken to hospital four or five years ago,
“In the last three years it has diminished greatly but last year eight or nine people on our bus needed medical attention and two went to hospital.”
Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said the PSNI wants everyone to enjoy St Patrick’s Day, but added that he would ask “all of those with influence in the community to work with us to ensure that all events are equally supported and respected throughout the course of the day”.
Ulster University said both universities and all local colleges are working with the PSNI. The university has been advising students on the need to safeguard their future careers, teams of volunteers will be in the area and local post-primary schools have been asked to discourage students from going to the Holylands area, which many did last year.
ST PATRICK’S DAY PARADES AND CONCERTS
Parade leaves Belfast City Hall at noon. Free concert at Custom House Square between 1pm and 3pm, featuring 2014 Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists Innova, Highland dancers Sollus and headline act Simon Webbe.
Carnival procession departs the Palace Demesne at 1pm, making its way through to the city centre where there is a free concert, 1.45pm – 4pm, featuring More Power To Your Elbow.
This year’s theme is Myths, Magic, Music: A Celebration and features a spectacular cavalcade of floats, bands, fancy dress and lots of attractions. The parade departs Ardglass Road at 2.30pm for the city centre. Open air concert, 2.15pm and 3.45pm, in St Patrick Square, featuring 4 Men & A Dog.
Spectacular annual St Patrick’s Day Carnival Parade. The theme of the celebration is ‘A Kaleidoscope of Culture’. Commences at 2.30pm, exiting from the Queen’s Quay car park.