SECURITY gates that have "blighted" Derry's historic walls are to be removed in a bid to send out a more positive message about the city during its culture year.
Work has started to take down 11 of the 16 gates which were erected along the walls to quell sectarian dis-order during the worst years of the Troubles.
Justice minister David Ford said the move would provide an opportunity to show what the city - once blighted by some of the worst of the violence during the 30-year conflict - had to offer.
"For tourists and residents alike, I very much welcome the fact that we have been able to remove a number of the security gates that are a blight on these historic walls," he said.
"The walls can now be enjoyed without the imposing structures that point to our past rather than our future."
The walls were built during the period 1613 to 1618 by the Irish Society as defences for early 17th-century settlers from England and Scotland.
From the late 1960s huge swathes of the walls were inaccessible as a result of being closed off by screens, gates and fences erected at interface areas by the security forces.
In 2009 Derry City Council assumed responsibility for closing the gates at night after the PSNI said the threat from dissident republicans made the nightly duty too dangerous.
A private security firm hired by the council will continue to open and close the remaining gates at Bishop Street under the walls at the Fountain estate which sits on an inter- The removal of the gates was welcomed by Derry mayor Kevin Camp-bell who said it would make the walls more accessible.
"I fully support any initiative that makes the city's historic walls more accessible," he said.
"This development really shows how Derry is moving forward and availing of the unique opportunity that the City of Culture title has given us to showcase our city, its assets and its people, and I am delighted that we can celebrate the walls as a shared space," he said.
■ GATED COMMUNITY: A workman begins removal of the security gates on Derry's walls watched by justice minister David Ford yesterday. Inset, since the late 1960s huge swathes of the walls have been closed off by screens, gates and fences in a bid to quell sectarian disorder MAIN PICTURE: Margaret McLaughlin