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Like most cities, Belfast has had its fair share of troubling statistics and unfortunate public embarrassments when it comes to substance abuse among young adults. Just last week, major universities in the city had circulated emails to their entire student bodies in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day, with the Student Union President at Queen’s University Belfast writing:
If you happen to be in the University area over the weekend please remember your responsibilities as a member of the South Belfast Community and be aware that as a student of Queen’s you fall under the auspices of the University’s Conduct Regulations.
This type of advisory email followed several years of well-publicised displays of disorderly conduct among a select group of young adults in student housing areas of the city. Years past have seen excessive and unmoderated drinking lead to physical altercations, verbal abuse, graffiti and property damage, police involvement, and consequently the expulsion of several students from their respective university institutions.
As a result, this year students at Queen’s were given a 4-day weekend over St. Patrick’s Day, in the hope that a longer break would encourage some to travel outside the city or to return home, away from the influence of those who were most likely to cause public disturbances. This measure seems to have been relatively effective, with The Irish Times reporting:
A substantial police presence, together with a zero-tolerance approach to on-street drinking, appeared to keep the situation under control.
On Friday, eight people were arrested in the area for a range of anti-social behaviour. But by 9.30pm yesterday, the streets of the Holyland, although littered with broken glass, were quiet and virtually empty, with just a few house parties going on behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, 2012 has already seen alcohol-related tragedy among the youth community. In February, 20-year old Joby Murphy accidentally fell into the River Lagan due to poor safety measures at the Lagan Weir bridge.
Murphy had attended a Snow Patrol concert that same night, and then drank £1 vodka shots prior to his fall, leading to his father getting involved with a campaign to ban certain drinks promotions around the city, namely ones that offer ‘All You Can Drink’ deals at significantly reduced prices. Such deals are common in Belfast bars and clubs frequented by students, and it is thought that banning them would go some way to discouraging young adults from binge drinking.
However, some have criticised such a proposition for being an ineffective way to teach young adults about the dangers of alcohol. The general mentality is, if someone wants to find alcohol at a cheap price then they will not have to look very far to find some.
Facebook even offers ‘Dial A Drink’ services, where businesses will deliver alcohol straight to your doorstep without ensuring that no minors in the house will be drinking, so it is clear that Belfast, like so many other UK cities, has not yet figured out how to measurably regulate alcohol consumption among younger people.
Murphy’s father is still pushing ahead with hopes of making the Lagan Weir bridge more secure and better equipped to deal with accidental falls, but at the moment he seems to be one active voice facing a larger community deaf to the seriousness of this drinking subculture.