Belfast bids for silent nights

February 18, 2005

Thursday is the worst night, say the long-term residents of Belfast's Holyland, a square kilometre of small houses close to Queen's University Belfast.

That is party night - the evening before the students, who now occupy 90 per cent of the properties, go home for the weekend. It begins with a cacophony of taxi horns from 8pm, and the raucous merrymaking continues into the small hours.

But excessive noise is the norm, according to the residents, as is rubbish spilling from bins or thrown on pavements. And students have been abusive and intimidating towards those who have dared to complain.

The problems have arisen since the number of higher education places was increased. Landlords snapped up properties and converted them to house as many tenants as possible.

This week, after 0 complaints since September, Queen's and Ulster University joined forces to stamp out anti-social behaviour and improve relations between students and the local community. Eye-catching posters and leaflets ask the question: "Do you turn into a monster after dark?"

They call on the students to respect their neighbours and help create conditions where everyone can live in peace.

The awareness campaign is matched by a "get tough" approach from both institutions. Ann Monaghan, UU's community relations manager, said that after investigations over the past academic year, UU suspended seven students and fined twelve. This year, it has suspended two students, fined three and issued final warnings to eighty-two.

Ms Monaghan disagreed with the view that this was not a university issue since the students were adults and living off campus. The university's ordinances cover off-campus behaviour likely to bring the university into disrepute or create substantial public concern, she said.

Queen's implemented a new disciplinary code in November, which also has the ultimate sanction of suspension.

Gerry McCormac, Queen's pro vice-chancellor, said: "Anti-social behaviour is one of the biggest challenges facing Belfast, and is undermining its citizens' quality of life. The student community should be a positive force for good.

"We hope that by educating people about their responsibilities, building partnerships and through the application of discipline we will be able to deal with this problem."

Student leaders back the universities' stance. Maria McCloskey, Queen's student president, said: "There's a lot of pressure on all universities to be aware of the community around them."

Many student residents of Holyland were not involved in anti-social behaviour and were themselves suffering, she said.

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