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Demands for Belfast City Hall bag checks as security steps up at Continental Market

We've urged stricter security for weeks, says employee at landmark Belfast building

By Brett Campbell

Boosted security at the Continental Market in the city centre has been welcomed by visitors, but a council employee has called for new measures at Belfast City Hall also.

"We have asked many times, for weeks on end: where are the bag checks?" the employee told the Belfast Telegraph.

Privately contracted security guards carried out bag checks as a constant flow of people made their way into the crowded market in the grounds of the City Hall yesterday, but there are now questions as to why council security staff have not implemented similar checks in the building itself.

The council employee said colleagues had been flagging up real fears over weak security long before Monday night's terror attack in Manchester.

"It's the right thing to do, and not just in light of what happened in Manchester. These attacks have been happening for a long time elsewhere and there are no checks in City Hall," they added. "We have a lot of tourists coming in with backpacks on and there is no real security measures in place."

The staff member also claimed that a mass casualty first aid kit had been delivered to premises four weeks ago, but Belfast City Council refused to confirm this.

It is not known if vital medical equipment - which could save lives in the event of a major attack - is being kept in one of Belfast's busiest buildings.

A spokesman said: "Belfast City Council do not comment on the security arrangements at any of our buildings or facilities."

UUP councillor Jim Rogers said he had been advocating changes to security procedures for a long time.

"We want to open up our beautiful building to visitors, but we have to draw the line somewhere, it's not realistic to continue unfettered access," he said.

"There is a very real terror threat and we have a duty to protect staff and members of the public. The sad truth is that people could be carrying objects that have the ability to wreak havoc and destruction."

Mr Rogers stressed that he had full confidence in the security staff at the City Hall and said he welcomed gaps in security being highlighted. "It is the role of the media to do those things and I will be calling for the bag checks to continue when the market is over," he added.

"Security personnel have been very visible over the past 48 hours and I will be pushing to keep that."

Visitors to the Continental Market had no objections to queueing and welcomed the bag checks at all entrances to the grounds, saying it made them feel safer. Ann and David Craig, both aged 76 and visiting from Ballymena, had no objections to being searched yesterday.

"We have no problem with it all, we lived through the Troubles and don't mind it," they said.

"You can't stop everything, but you have do to something."

Matthew Skinner (23) visited the market on his lunch break yesterday.

He said that being searched was a small price to pay for safety.

"If it means there is less likelihood of something happening, then it is worth it, I absolutely feel safer knowing they are checking people," he added.

After having his bag searched yesterday afternoon, Michael Weir (30), who lives in Belfast, said he understood the checks but doubted their effectiveness.

"This is just so it looks like the Government is doing something, but they aren't protecting us," he claimed. "They are probably doing this all over Europe in response to one incident and it's pointless because in a few weeks they will stop."

Market Place Europe confirmed that organisers of the Spring Continental Market took the decision to increase security after discussions with Belfast City Council.

"An increase in security staff may at times also be supported with random bag searches. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but we are sure the public will understand that the safety of our visitors is our priority at all times," it said.

Councillor Carole Howard added: "Security has been increased around the Spring Continental Market in line with Home Office direction for all events across the UK. Alliance remains supportive of measures to ensure public safety."

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