The presence of armed soldiers at the gates was intimidating to the public, and soldiers were targets for frequent attacks. Visits to the city centre were typically avoided unless absolutely necessary. This, and increasing pressure to deploy the Army to other districts as the conflict developed, led to the formation of the Civilian Search Unit (CSU) in 1974.


The CSU was a force of around 300 civil servants who were a new kind of government employee recruited by the NIO and administered by the RUC. Core CSU hours were 8am to 4pm Monday-Friday with all working hours outside of this paid as overtime. They were responsible for staffing entrance gates, (open 7am-11pm Monday-Saturday, 8am-11pm Sundays) and conducting full body searches of pedestrians and vehicles entering the Segments.


Both men and women were recruited for the CSU, as pedestrians were separated by gender and frisked at the gates. The CSU was supported by static military guards and Army patrols. Gates with higher threat levels, such as those close to the Grand Central Hotel on Royal Avenue or leading to the west of the city, like Castle Street, continued to be staffed exclusively by the military.

CSU recruitment advertisement, Belfast Telegraph November 1974 © Independent News and Media PLC. Images created courtesy of The British Library Board. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

CSU on duty at Castle Lane gate © Bill Kirk/Belfast Archive Project

Segment B was removed in 1974, as night-time businesses within the area had been losing trade and the cost of security in this lower-risk area was prohibitive. This area would no longer be controlled by the Security Forces, and pedestrians were able to come and go freely at any hour without being searched. The barriers across Skipper St remained in place, however, for the next few years, with the owners of local bars holding keys allowing access for delivery vehicles.

Public information map, Belfast Telegraph July 1974 © Independent News and Media PLC. Images created courtesy of The British Library Board. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Map of 1974 Segments. Gates and fences shown as white points © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap

By 1975, there were 6 security Segments with 31 gates open Monday to Friday and two more gates open on Saturdays. Four of these were guard posts for the Grand Central Hotel. The gates were manned progressively, building up from 7am as more gates opened, to a peak between 7.30am and 5.00pm, then a gradual reduction with the minimum CSU staff on duty between 2am and 7am. Vehicle searches were undertaken at the High Street, Donegall Place and Royal Avenue gates. The Army was responsible for carrying out mobile patrols within the Segments with 68 soldiers providing support to 270 CSU staff.


Cornmarket gate © Martin Nangle

Various issues surrounding the barriers impacted ongoing business in Belfast. Among these was the overall appearance of the gates, fences and barriers, which were widely considered to be an eyesore and a deterrent to the public. Efforts were made to tone down the security infrastructure to try and eliminate the oppressive atmosphere in the city centre.