Belfast security measures accepted as normal: People in Belfast have become accustomed to police checks and the 'ring of steel' which protects the city's commercial heart. David McKittrick reports

MORE than two decades of violence and unrest have turned Belfast into a city where security considerations are all-pervasive and yet hardly remarked on by a population which has become accustomed to them over time.

Few under the age of 40 can remember when the city centre was a place where vehicles and pedestrians could enter and leave without restriction.

Tight security has become the norm. Uniformed police officers always wear protective flak-jackets, move in pairs and carry handguns, rifles or machine-guns. Patrols of armed troops are common.

For much of the past year it has been impossible to travel into Belfast without passing through a police roadcheck with officers standing in the road to check drivers. Other officers stay on the pavements providing cover.

All major roads are covered. Some minor roads have been sealed off which means vehicles have no option but to take their place in the queues to be checked. Many vehicles are waved through while others are stopped and the driver asked for his destination.

Particular attention is paid to vans, since these have often been used by the IRA to transport large bombs. In most cases, however, car boots are not searched, since the primary purpose of the checks seems to be to deter the bombers rather than catch them. The theory, which generally holds good, is that bombing teams will not attempt to bluff their way through such checkpoints and so will regard the road as impassable.

Such measures are not popular with the public, since traffic is inevitably delayed, but the almost universal feeling is that they are a necessary inconvenience.

This general tightening of security was put into operation after the IRA reverted to the practice of placing large bombs close to the city centre. Some of these devices wrecked entire streets.

Some roadchecks are slightly different in that a police officer or soldier in a Land-Rover feeds vehicle registration numbers into a computer. This then responds with a code which indicates that the driver should be let through, stopped and questioned or subjected to a thorough search.

In the early 1970s there were so many bombs in Belfast that the authorities responded by erecting a 'ring of steel' around the city centre.

This entailed placing high railings around the central segment and limiting access to a number of permanently-manned entrances. The authorities created a new corps of uniformed 'civilian searchers'.

The searchers continue to function, and the ring of steel is still in place. Most private vehicles are excluded from the centre while buses are checked before being allowed in and pedestrians are liable to be checked.

Despite this, bombs and incendiaries still go off in and around the city centre in continual reminders that security can never be absolute. But few doubt that without the security the city centre would by now be a wasteland.

Taken together the measures may sound oppressive, and they certainly seem extraordinary to many tourists. For local people, however, familiarity has bred acceptance and the abnormal is now accepted as the norm.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor