Hundreds of extra police officers will be on duty for a “robust” response to St Patrick’s Day rule breakers.

Substantial numbers will patrol beauty spots and the Holylands in Belfast to break up house parties.

PSNI assistant chief constable Alan Todd said people knew the rules and those breaking them could expect to face stiff fines.

“The four Es approach starts now.

“If people breach that…then they can expect a robust response.”

The four Es stands for the graduated policing response adopted during the pandemic including engaging, explaining and encouraging before enforcing.

Mr Todd said people who had been fined before risked even tougher penalties.

He added wrongdoing like drinking in public places was enforceable even without the coronavirus regulations in place.

“My concern is about people breaching the regulations and posing a risk to wider community health.

“We will act proportionately and with necessity.”

The heightened operation will run from early morning on Wednesday through to the early hours of Thursday morning.

Mr Todd said it would be a significant operation.

“We will have our normal deployments for normal calls and services.”

He added: “The other effort is on top of that.

“It is a substantial policing operation, it will run to the hundreds of officers.”

Police don’t want a repeat of scenes likes this in 2013 when riot cops had to be sent into the Holylands district of south Belfast

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has told those holding parties for St Patrick’s Day to “wise up” and think about families grieving the loss of a loved one to coronavirus.

Police have already broken up gatherings in the Holyland area of south Belfast ahead of March 17.

Mr Todd said he did not want to see large crowds gathering in one place because that posed particular risks of young people bringing Covid-19 home to unvaccinated parents.

“We all have our personal experience through the pandemic.

“We have seen some challenges for people’s adherence to the regulations in recent times.

“There has been a lot of personal sacrifice for the best part of the year, people are missing their friends and their social life.

“We are coming out of a long winter and all hope for better times.”

By not adhering to the regulations those better times could be jeopardised, the senior officer warned, and urged people to show discipline now and through the Easter holidays.

“The risks are that the very thing we want is postponed.”

He said some people had “flagrantly” breached regulations in the past.

He added fixed penalty notices very rarely progressed to arrest unless the behaviour continued.

“What we have seen on St Patrick’s Day on a small number of occasions where people break the public order and criminal law by their behaviour.

“Quite a lot of it is about drinking in public places, indecent behaviour.

“All of that remains a challenge on St Patrick’s Day and we won’t be shying away from that either.”

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