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'Let common sense prevail': Annual St Patrick's partying by students in Belfast raises Covid-19 concerns

The Holylands area in Belfast is notorious for large celebrations on St Patrick’s Day.

The Holylands area of Belfast is well-known for the parties and celebrations on St Patrick's Day.
The Holylands area of Belfast is well-known for the parties and celebrations on St Patrick's Day.
Image: PA Images

THE NOTORIOUS ST Patrick’s Day parties in Belfast’s ‘Holylands’ area – an annual source of concern for local residents – are causing particular anxiety this year as Northern Ireland grapples with the spread of Covid-19. 

Every year, thousands of people – largely students – descend on the residential streets in south Belfast for a St Patrick’s Day celebration that routinely sees multiple arrests and a large police presence. 

Last year, it was reported that £100,000 was budgeted for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) operation in Belfast city and the Holylands area. 

Concern is high this year that any mass gathering of people could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19. 

While one popular local bar on the Ormeau Road has announced that it will close, some worry that groups could congregate on the streets regardless. 

South Belfast MLA and Green Party leader Claire Bailey told TheJournal.ie that she had “serious concerns” that people wouldn’t heed warnings today to stay away from the Holylands. 

Bailey said that there had been reports of house parties in recent days. 

Referencing the scenes in Temple Bar in Dublin over the weekend – widely circulated on Twitter – which showed pubs full of people despite strict government guidelines on social distancing, she said that “residents are concerned that the usual street partying will happen”.

“The spreading of the virus is a major concern,” she said. “This goes wider than students. It is now known regionally as the place to go.”

“It’s what the whole context brings in. People travel to spend a few days partying in the area.”

Bailey appealed to people thinking of coming to the area to stay away. “Please, let common sense prevail here. Keep people safe. Don’t put emergency services under stress,” she said. 

There are currently 52 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Covid-19 in Northern Ireland. 

Every year, local colleges including Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast take part in measures to try and tackle anti-social behaviour alongside the PSNI and Belfast City Council.

Yesterday, Queen’s University announced that all lectures would be delivered remotely for the foreseeable future. 

A spokesperson for Ulster University said that it was urging “students to stay away from the Holyland area while the university is closed or on reading day and to avoid gathering in large numbers in properties”.

“We are also aware of increasing numbers of non-students who travel to the Holylands area each year,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to repeat the risks of engaging in anti-social behaviour to our students. Any reports made to us by the authorities will be subject to robust university disciplinary action.”

Students, the spokesperson said, “should consider their own health and the health of others with underlying health issues, for whom COVID-19 is a serious concern”.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna also issued a joint statement with QUBSU President Connor Veighey and UUSU President Andrew McAnallen calling on students not to attend parties in the Holylands but to instead stay at home:

As the Covid19/Coronavirus crisis worsens with an increase in cases in Northern Ireland we are asking students who had planned gatherings for St Patricks Day in the Holylands and the wider south Belfast area to cancel them in the interest of public safety and to prevent further spread of the virus.

In a statement, PSNI Superintendent Muir Clark told people to enjoy St Patrick’s Day “safely, respect yourselves and local residents and be mindful of the health advice from the Public Health Agency”. 

While not specifically mentioning Covid-19, Clark said that there “will be significant resources in the area to keep everyone safe”. 

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