Belfast interface gate replaced
A 50-year-old security gate which divides Northern Ireland’s two communities is being replaced.
The imposing steel barrier which divides a side street between the mainly Catholic/nationalist Falls Road from the mainly Protestant/unionist Shankill Road has been in place since August 1969.
Contractors started work at Townsend Street on Monday morning, installing a new modern see-through gate close to the solid one which remained in place during the work.
The Townsend Street gates are currently closed at night.
They are opened between 7am to 5.30pm from Monday to Thursday, 7am to 6pm on Friday and closed at the weekends.
The move comes following what structure owner the Department of Justice has termed “considerable community engagement work”.
A spokeswoman for the department described the current gates as in “poor condition” and said the work is expected to last a week.
She said there has been “considerable community engagement work” ahead of the changes to the interface structure through the Falls Shankill Community Forum.
“Such a forum, bringing together community, voluntary and statutory organisations in a partnership with residents and local elected representatives, is essential to delivering positive change at interface areas,” the spokeswoman said.
The departmental spokeswoman said they hope to see “considerable community benefits” from the new gates.
These include “improving the appearance of the area; improved passive surveillance; enhanced health and safety through installation of pedestrian access gates on both pavements; the removal of concealed spaces used previously for anti-social behaviour; enhanced visibility for pedestrians and motorists; and a potential reduction in the opportunity for graffiti”.
She added: “Whilst the gates at Townsend Street are being replaced, they will continue to be a DoJ-owned and designated interface structure.”
There are an estimated 116 barriers separating unionist and nationalist communities across Northern Ireland.
They are mostly located in Belfast but are also present in Londonderry as well as Co Armagh towns Lurgan and Portadown.
A small number have been removed or transformed, including one at a former flashpoint in Ardoyne, north Belfast, in 2016.