1976

The CCSC reviewed and made major changes to city centre security in 1976. A single Segment north of the City Hall was formed by merging Segments A, C, F and G into one sealed area, by now commonly known as the ‘Ring of Steel’ and, in true Belfast style also dubbed the ‘Merlyn Wall’ after Merlyn Rees, the British Secretary of State who signed off the upgrade.

 

'Large Segment' map proposed by Security forces showing 1974 Segments and proposed 1976 large Segment gates. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Public notification of new security Segments © Independent News and Media PLC. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Pedestrians entered the new Segment through new multi-channel access points at the four main entrances - Donegall Place, Castle Street, Royal Avenue and High Street - considerably reducing queuing times . There were now a total of 17 pedestrian entrances, old barriers were removed and the two-mile-long perimeter of the new Segment was secured with tall palisade fencing. A proposal to introduce CCTV at this time was turned down by the NIO as it was considered that 'this smacks a little of Big Brother' (The National Archives, file CJ 4/1240). CCTV would be introduced later to Belfast and used as a test-case for the eventual introduction of camera surveillance to cities elsewhere.

 

Buses would not be able to collect or drop off passengers inside the Segment, and main bus stops were set at Donegall Place, High Street or Royal Avenue. All who entered through the gates did so on foot after being searched. Once within, pedestrians could move freely without having to pass from one Segment to another. This was known as the Large Segment Plan and it was announced by the NIO to the public through the Belfast Telegraph on Friday 26th March 1976, and made operational the following Monday. It was hoped that the new Segment would increase footfall in the city centre by making access easier, whilst improving security and reducing the feeling that Belfast city centre was under siege.

Map of 1976 Segments. Gates and fences shown as white points © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap

Donegall Place gate © Kevin O'Farrell

The CCSC continued to review the Segments to improve security and increase a feeling of normality despite the ongoing conflict. The Army presence within the city centre was diminished, despite resistance from the CSU, who considered there was greater risk to their safety without armed support. CCSC minutes from this period note concerns that Belfast was becoming a 'vehicle-free shopping fortress' and 'another Stalingrad' (The National Archives, file CJ4/642), with the atmosphere after work in the city centre likened to that of a besieged medieval walled city after curfew.

 

By December 1980 the Army had vacated the Grand Central Hotel and changes were made to the gates in this area which had served as guard posts protecting the hotel. The Bank Street gate, which had been fixed against the wall of Kelly's Cellars, was moved to the junction with Chapel Lane. Garfield Street, previously sealed off with fencing, was fitted with an exit turnstile, and the gate at the junction of Berry Street and Royal Avenue protecting the Hotel was removed.

 

North Street/Royal Avenue gate © Martin Nangle

The 'search procedure' underway at Donegall Place gate © Bill Kirk/Belfast Archive Project

In December 1981, vehicle access restrictions after working hours were lifted and parking within the Segment allowed after searching. Thursday late-night shopping was also introduced to increase Christmas trade.

 

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