Northern Ireland

Cold War secret behind Belfast suburban hedges

For years a windowless building has been hidden away amid prime real estate in Belfast's Malone Road area.

But in recent days, 148 Mount Eden Park has emerged from behind its camouflage of trees and bushes.

The greenery has been cut away from what some have long referred to as Belfast's nuclear bunker.

Although the hedges were cut back, the building has remained shrouded in mystery. So what is it and who owns it?

Stormont seemed the most likely owners, but the Department of Finance said it wasn't on its books and suggested the Ministry of Defence. They don't own it.

Another Stormont source said it was definitely not a bunker, but a former civil defence building now used for storage and was perhaps owned by the Public Records office. It isn't....

Ops room

The newspaper archives at Belfast central library did reveal something of its past.

In December 1983 anti-nuclear campaigners broke in and the Northern Ireland Office then admitted in a statement that the facility was used to train government personnel in emergency civil defence.

Peter Emerson is one of those who broke in 30 years ago, as he did not believe the official line that it was a storage facility.

"In those days it was definitely part of the whole nuclear machine," he says.

"Underground, there was a massive ops room. Whoever was going to be there was going to be there in the event of a nuclear war and they would have been able to live there for weeks, if not months, if not even longer.

"There was a massive food store, there were dormitories, toilets and everything else you might need."

Peter and his friends also found maps and other signs that a recent nuclear exercise had just taken place.

Blast doors

The Cold War ended but curiosity about the building has remained.

In recent years, Cold War buff Alistair McCann has been doggedly tracking down the owners.

He revealed it's now owned by the Department of Justice and leased for storage.

So what's it like inside?

"It's quite changed from how it would originally have been, all the blast doors have been removed and all the internal wall have been taken down and it's used for file storage now so it's quite difficult to get a picture of how the building used to look," says Alistair.

The department says it has no plans for the premises.

But even if it did, it wouldn't be easy to sell or demolish - its walls are two and half feet thick.