Lord Mayor warns university reputation is on the line

THE Lord Mayor of Belfast has said Queen’s University is in danger of losing its good reputation if it does not take proper responsibility for its students living in the ‘Holy Land’ area of South Belfast.

Cllr Ekin was speaking after a BBC programme highlighting ongoing tensions between long-term residents and students living in the Holy Land was followed by a rowdy protest in the area.

Speaking after he visited Holy Land residents this afternoon, Councillor Ekin said: “Students may feel aggrieved that they have been singled out as the cause of the Holy Land’s ills, but the disgraceful scenes last night will simply confirm to many people that the criticism they saw on their TV last night was justified.

“Students from outside Belfast and established residents manage to co-exist in relative harmony in other parts of the city. While we recognise that there are problems in the Holy Land, there is no justification at all for the intimidation, harassment, fear, violence and destruction of property that some students are regularly responsible for.

“If those students who thought they were being unfairly portrayed on BBC Spotlight believed that bringing hundreds of people out onto the streets last night or that harassing residents who have complained about their behaviour was helping their case, they were sorely mistaken.

“Today, not for the first time, I heard first hand of the difficulties faced by residents because of the students’ behaviour. I have asked what I can do as Lord Mayor to help the area, and I look forward to hearing from the local regeneration group again. Alliance has already requested that the Minister responsible for planning has a moratorium on houses of multiple occupancy in the area, and we need to tighten up planning regulations.

“While various authorities have co-operated to alleviate the various problems associated with the Holy Land, the ultimate responsibility for many of the anti-social problems lies with the students themselves and their university. We all know that the two universities have engaged in various initiatives, but so far they have failed to significantly reduce the scale of the problem. Queen’s has yet to adequately discipline students.

“Students have a right to their education and to live in decent housing, but others also have a right to live free from fear, intimidation and anti-social behaviour. Until Queen’s deals this specific problem in a demonstrable and meaningful way, its global reputation of excellence in education will continue to suffer badly.”

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