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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£70 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Learning Support Assistants n...

Teachers required for Cambridge Primary positions Jan 2015

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in Cambridge...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain