Party thrown to beat rowdiness

March 17, 2006

St Patrick's Day, March 17, is a public holiday in Northern Ireland. But last year Gerry McCormac, pro vice-chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, was forced to abandon his plans for a relaxed family outing because of student drinking and rowdiness.

"The police rang me at 9.30am to say things were getting out of hand and I came and spent the whole day in the area until 2am," he said.

The Holyland area, on Queen's doorstep, houses 7,000 students from Queen's and Ulster University in one square kilometre. There has been growing tension in recent years as the long-term residential population dwindles, and student anti-social behaviour increases.

Last year, St Patrick's Day sparked a massive street party as students drank outside their homes - an activity interspersed with visits to local bars.

Problems were exacerbated with the arrival of non-student party-goers.

"Eighteen arrests were made and not one was a student from either university," Professor McCormac said.

It struck Professor McCormac that there was little alternative to drinking.

So this year, Queen's and UU are collaborating on a three-day festival for students and the local community. Headline acts include comedians Ed and Jason Byrne, and Celebrity Big Brother contender Preston with his band, The Ordinary Boys.

The festival also includes sports, classic Irish movies and spiritual events, with a free late-night minibus service to help students get home quickly and safely. Irish stew will be on sale for £1 in a bid to fill students up so that they drink less.

Bill Clarke, UU provost for Belfast and Jordanstown, said: "The festival is a tangible demonstration of the co-operative and proactive approach adopted by the two universities to help promote good community relations in south Belfast."

This is the latest in a series of initiatives to improve relations between the community and the universities.

Last year saw the launch of the "Do You Turn Into A Monster After Dark?"

campaign designed to alert students to the impact of late night carousing on local residents. Community wardens now patrol the area both day and night, ensuring students' safety as well as discouraging anti-social behaviour.

Colleen Dowdall, UU's student president, said she hoped that the festival would be a success and that it would become an annual event.

Ben Preston, Queen's student president, said: "I hope the only problem students will have will be deciding on what sports event to participate in and which gig to attend."

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