Derry’s walls are an integral part of the city and have survived for nearly four centuries. It’s the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland. With the progression of the peace process over the past fifteen years, the walls have become a tourist attraction, with guided walks daily. But the heavy metal security gates at sixteen locations were a reminder of a troubled past. Now eleven of them are being removed.
Speaking during a visit to the walls, the NI Minister For Justice David Ford said he hoped the move would be welcomed by residents, businesses and visitors alike. He said in the year of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture, the walls would play a central role in the festivities and are a must see for any tourist visiting the city. Derry has a real opportunity to show what the city has to offer.
He welcomed the removal of the gates for residents and tourists alike and described them as a blight on the historic walls. The walls can now be enjoyed without the imposing structures that point to our past rather than our future, he added. Mr Ford thanked the local community, the PSNI and Derry City Council for their support and cooperation and said his department had invested £28,000 in providing additional CCTV coverage around the walls.
According to BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Ford said he hoped confidence could be built in the community so that people could feel safe and secure without the need for interface structures. “We obviously have to take account of the fact that there are small numbers of people in this city as there are elsewhere in Northern Ireland who are trying to drag us back,” he said, “but what I sense when I visit Derry is a very positive feel of people wanting to see movement forward, of the benefits of the City of Culture, of the Fleadh and all that coming forward and that is engaging with communities across Derry in a very positive way.”
The mayor of Derry, Councillor Kevin Campbell, said the decision to remove the gates was about normalising the city. “It is about taking down symbols that have been here over thirty years,” he said. “There will still be a number of gates that are there to protect the Fountain, and you would obviously have to keep them there at the moment. But I think we have to be looking in the long term at having all those gates and barriers removed.”
DUP security spokesman Gregory Campbell also welcomed the removal of the gates, but warned against taking out the remainder. “It’s not just people in Londonderry, but tourists and visitors alike don’t like to see the aesthetics, the culture and history of the walls being encumbered by those gates which are a throwback to a previous era thankfully now past and I think everyone will welcome that,” he said.
Five security gates overlooking the loyalist Fountain Estate in the Bishop Street area including one at Bishop’s Gate will remain in place. Restoration work has been continuing along the walls and at several important buildings in the city centre, including the Guildhall and St Columb’s Cathedral. I saw some of these sights during a visit in March and I hope to travel to the city again by train next week to see the difference, now that the security gates are coming down.