| 11.9°C Belfast

Police to bolster festive presence

Police are ramping up their presence in Belfast city centre amid concerns dissident republicans may again target the area in the run-up to Christmas.

PSNI city commander Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw said people can expect an increase in vehicle checks and both visible and plain clothed foot patrols during the festive period. Around 1,000 vehicles have already been stopped in the first few days of the operation.

Mr Grimshaw said the PSNI was keen to balance the need to provide reassurance and protection without over-policing the city.

"It's there to provide reassurance in the first instance and prevent and deter people who might want to bring something into the city centre from a more sinister point of view," he said.

Last year a series of dissident attacks caused significant disruption in the city centre.

Festive revellers escaped injury when a small bomb exploded in the busy Cathedral Quarter district while, in another incident, a suspected firebomber set himself alight inside a shop when the device he was carrying seemingly ignited prematurely inside his jacket.

There was also a failed car bomb attack close to the entrance of the Victoria Square shopping centre.

In recent weeks dissidents have launched a series of attacks in other areas of Belfast.

Mr Grimshaw said: "I think Christmas is a very busy period and clearly the instances that happened last year around Christmas were significant and certainly grabbed the attention of the public. We take that on board, we have also seen the attacks that have happened just outside the city centre but in Belfast city over the last few weeks, so we constantly review our security profile.

"We would have been putting a policing operation in place anyway for Belfast city centre over Christmas - that's what we are doing, and we take on board these other potential risks and factor that into our consideration."

Police are working in partnership with retailers and other traders and have provided advice on what to look out for.

As well as the security issues, the stakeholders have also reiterated general messages about responsible drinking and taking precautions against theft.

Paul McMahon, president of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: "As the capital city, Belfast has a huge variety of retail outlets that are unique to Northern Ireland which therefore appeal to people from across Northern Ireland and indeed the Republic of Ireland and further afield.

"This influx of visitors is something which retailers and businesses rely on and we want to ensure that their experience of the city is as positive as it can be. Therefore it is extremely important that we work together in order to create a safe and friendly environment for all our visitors."

Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said: "Christmas revellers have been planning their social diaries and a large number of restaurants and bars are indicating that they have taken large numbers of bookings for Christmas functions. This is an extremely positive reflection of what the city has to offer and the festive atmosphere is already palpable in the city.

"We are working in close partnership with the PSNI and with licensees to reinforce safety messages while encouraging people to drink responsibly and look after each other. "