Page last updated at 19:28 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The day after the night before

A street cleaning vehicle in the Ormeau area before cleaning staff withdrew
A street cleaning vehicle in the Ormeau area before cleaning staff withdrew

A day after trouble erupted in south Belfast council crews are still working to clean the area.

Belfast City Council cleaning crews were told to leave the Holyland area by police during the St Patrick's Day violence and could only return at 0500 GMT on Wednesday.

When they arrived they were confronted with broken glass, damaged cars, burning material and the contents of 200 large euro bins emptied onto the streets.

As well as the rubbish they also found people sleeping in front gardens.

Jim Ferguson is the operations manager of the council's street cleansing department.

As well as maintaining the shopping hub of the city centre his 36-strong section takes care of the Holylands and some other areas in the south of the city.

The initial indications are that a lot of the individuals had consumed a significant amount of alcohol in a limited period of time

Superintendent Chris Noble

He said that 14 of his people, whom he described as "working men" had spent all day in the area to clean up after "the young professionals of the future".

"Our staff have been in there clearing up the streets, the roads, the entries after what I can only describe as an appalling night of rampage," he said.

Trouble began in the area on St Patrick's Day after police moved in to clear people off the street during celebrations marking the saint's day.

Superintendent Chris Noble said police took action when they came under attack.

"The response was proportionate, it was fair and residents were complimentary," he said.

Two police officers were injured during the trouble.

Nineteen arrests were made, and 11 people subsequently released pending reports to the Public Prosecution Service.

Five people appeared in court on Wednesday on charges linked to the disturbances.

Three other people have been charged with public order offences and are expected to appear in court within the next 28 days.

"The initial indications are that a lot of the individuals had consumed a significant amount of alcohol in a limited period of time," he said.

Damaged car and rubbish
There was trouble after police moved in to clear crowds

The area is a popular one with students, but not all those arrested during the alcohol-fuelled mayhem were in third level study.

However, south Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell said the universities had to act against those who did get into trouble.

"The two universities and Belfast Metropolitan College must take a very harsh line with people who behave like this," he said.

Student residents insisted that a small minority were involved in the violence.

Both universities condemned the trouble. Belfast provost of the University of Ulster, Alastair Adair, said he was "appalled by the mayhem and disorder".

"This was alcohol-fuelled, by and large," he said.

"It may be that we have to take measures such as alcohol disorder zones as they have in England, where on certain days at certain times alcohol is prohibited."


Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University, Gerry McCormac, said although no student had yet been expelled for bad behaviour, it remained an option open to the university.

"There've been 200 students disciplined this year. One hundred and fifty of those have been warned, 50 fined severely," he said.

"We have expulsion on our books as an option, we go through a disciplinary process and if expulsion is the punishment that's required for a certain behaviour, we won't hesitate from using that."

Local private homeowners said the disturbances proved there were too many shared houses, flats and multiple occupancies in the area.

Brian Falconer, a 28-year-old engineer watched the trouble unfold from his flat on Agincourt Avenue.

He told the BBC's news website that he did not see what had started the trouble, but that it soon became "mayhem".

"Students would be with the police posing for pictures then the police would form lines run at them and the students would run away," he said.

He added he saw youths in the area who were not students throwing bottles. He said they had arrived in the area from the direction of the Ormeau embankment.

"I saw one throw a bottle and it hit a student right on the head," he said.

He said that he has lived in the area for 11 months and had never experienced anything like it, but added there had been tensions between residents and the student population over noise.

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