1984

Despite success in deterring car bombers due to the efficient control of vehicle access into the city centre, attacks continued in the through the use of incendiary devices often concealed in cassette cases. Many shops hired their own private security staff as a second line of defence to search shoppers entering their premises, part funded through the state-sponsored Security Staff Grants Scheme.

 

Ongoing disputes between the CSU and NIO caused UDR and RUC armed patrols to be increased within the city centre, and the RUC became increasingly responsible for conducting selective searching at the gates. Security infrastructure continued to soften with the introduction of less conspicuous concrete bollards and heavy flower tubs preventing vehicle access and protecting buildings. The CSU was reduced from 300 to 100 staff through a voluntary redundancy programme.

In February 1984, Lower North Street was removed from the Segment after increasing pressure from local traders. The area had become run-down and desolate and, on the 6th of February, it reopened to traffic and in the words of the Belfast Telegraph was 'freed after 12 years behind bars'. Gate X2, at the junction of North Street and Bridge Street, was moved to cover the Bridge Street/Rosemary Street junction and a new gate placed in Lower Garfield Street to control access from newly opened North Street.

Map of 1984 Segment. Gates and fences shown as white points © Mapbox, © OpenStreetMap

Announcement of opening of North Street from Belfast Telegraph, 2nd December 1983. Despite a further large explosion in the area on December 28th, plans went ahead the following February

© Independent News and Media PLC. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

North Street before and after,  Belfast Telegraph, 6th February 1984 © Independent News and Media PLC. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

New gate covering Rosemary Street/North Street junction. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

New gate in Lower Garfield Street. Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Castle Street presented unique security challenges: persisting threat of attack from west Belfast and a crowded street scene with illegal traders and black taxis parking against the gate to the west. Black taxis provided the only reliable form of public transportation between west Belfast and the city centre, as buses were sporadically highjacked and service was intermittent.

 

A letter to the NIO describing a recent official visit to the Castle Street gate in the CCSC minutes from 1985 describes 'a filthy dilapidated street of rundown businesses, black taxis, diesel fumes and illegal traders separated by a barrier of concrete and steel complete with watchtower/sangar permanently manned by armed soldiers. Castle Street is a disgrace and we helped to create it by building, maintaining and manning 'Checkpoint Charlie'' (The National Archives, file CJ 4/5533). This was not the first time the Berlin Wall was alluded to in relation to the Ring of Steel.

 

Castle Street in the mid 1980s taken from outside the Segment looking in © Martin Nangle

Beginning with the opening up of the North Street area, the NIO began another major programme of improvements to gates, fences and search huts in continuing efforts to reduce the visual and psychological impact of the Ring of Steel. From 1985, the pedestrian search procedure was abandoned, and search shelters began to be dismantled at various locations around the city, with minor gates being left open to pedestrian access on a 24 hour basis. Plans to develop the area around the Grand Central Hotel were made in 1985. In 1987, the block between Berry Street and Garfield Street to the west of Royal Avenue was demolished to make way for what would become Castle Court shopping centre, which opened to the public in 1990, despite bombings that disrupted construction.

 

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