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article imageOp-Ed: As N. Ireland nears G8 lockdown — the case for a permanent G8 HQ

By Robert Myles     May 20, 2013 in Politics
Enniskillen - Next month, G8 leaders and their entourages descend on County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland for the 39th G8 summit, on June 17-18. Like earlier summits, an agreeable location will host the event, on the shores of picturesque Lough Erne.
The closest town of any significant size is Enniskillen which, during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, shot to prominence when the Provisional IRA exploded a massive bomb during the Remembrance Day service at the town’s cenotaph on November 8, 1987. The Enniskillen bombing was one of the worst single atrocities during Northern Ireland’s 30 plus years of violence. It left 11 people dead and 63 injured.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron is said to have chosen Northern Ireland to host the 2013 G8 summit as he was anxious to demonstrate the extent to which normality has returned to the six counties that make up the province. Specifically, Lough Erne was chosen since, as well as being a pleasant spot to while away a couple of days in June, it also wins out on security grounds. Still fresh in G8 organisers’ minds are the riots that plagued the 2010 G8/G20 meetings in Toronto, Canada. Then, the forces of order nearly lost control and Canada’s largest city was placed in a state of near lockdown.
But Lough Erne is a world removed from Toronto’s mean streets. The 2013 G8 venue is surrounded by water on three sides and, while crowd-sourcing might be a dawdle in Toronto, Enniskillen (pop. 13,599) is a different proposition. County Fermanagh isn’t exactly renowned for its freeways either. Many of roads near the G8 location are single carriageway and any attempted cavalcades of demonstrators are more likely to find themselves squaring up to the local sheep population than riot squads.
But of course there’s more to security at G8 2013 than local livestock, much more. When the security operation swings into action weeks before the G8 summit starts, it’ll have implications, not just for local people in Northern Ireland, but also for those who live over the nearby border in the Republic of Ireland.
For fencing contractors, the G8’s a boon in times of recession. Miles of security fencing is being erected around the G8 venue — and, of course, it’ll all have to be dismantled once the G8 caravan departs.
But it’s not just the physical upheaval that mile upon mile of fencing will bring. The Independent reports the Irish Republic’s Justice Minister has already referred to the possibility of Irish mobile phone providers being asked to cut signals during the G8 summit so that bombs cannot be triggered via cellphone signals.
The tentacles of security for the summit also extend into less obvious areas of daily life — health, education and even road repairs. There are reports that some hospital operations are being postponed. Construction work on many of Northern Ireland’s will come to a halt for more than a week. School pupils may also suffer disruption. Northern Ireland’s Department of Education has issued a circular to schools setting out procedures to be followed if the anticipated traffic congestion caused by the G8 summit proves too much — and all this at a time when school students in the province will be sitting crucial A-level and GCSE examinations, the former the key qualification to university entrance.
The local Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), numbering around 7,200 officers, will be beefed up. An estimated 3,600 additional police will be summoned from the UK mainland — that’s an awful lot of full Ulster breakfasts to find, even for the summit’s short duration. To put the police numbers in perspective, with its history of The Troubles, Northern Ireland is already one of the most heavily policed areas of the British Isles. There’s about one police officer per 250 of the general population. By comparison, over the border in the Irish Republic, the police, known as Garda Síochána, are thinner on the ground. One Garda officer keeps order for every 350 of the civilian population south of the border.
The plum jobs for police officers are the planned marine patrols on nearby Lough Erne. What better way to provide security for the summit than to mess about in boats on the lakes and rivers of Ireland’s scaled down version of the Great Lakes?
Police are preparing for an influx of protesters and although the PSNI say peaceful protests will be tolerated, they’re taking no chances. Hundreds of temporary holding cells in prisons and former army barracks will be readied for any protesters unfortunate enough to have their collars felt by the local constabulary.
Another side of the preparations concerns the beautification of the neighbourhood. Not for the G8 delegates to see Northern Ireland as it really is, oh no. A reported £300,000 is being spent tarting up the facades of dilapidated buildings. G8 preparations also involve a number of companies engaged in cleansing the pavements of that blight on the urban landscape — chewing gum.
But after June 18, the whole G8 panjandrum will be wound down and the good folk of Enniskillen will return to normality, their town, once again, a prime tourist draw. Although, they’ll be a few taxpayer pounds lighter. Preparations will start for the G8 circus to head to Russia in 2014, with Moscow the expected host city. No expense spared — if you’re a G8 delegate, austerity’s something everyone else endures.
But it need not be so; for, if President Obama is to be believed, there’s a place in the Caribbean that will soon be a facility without a purpose — Guantanamo.
Is there a better way of ensuring a future return on all these federal billions, spent over the last decade in developing Guantanamo, than to make it the G8’s permanent home? After all, the United Nations manages to be non-peripatetic perfectly well, quite comfortable in its New York home since 1952.
Just like this year’s Lough Erne venue, Guantanamo is protected to some extent by water. It’s already a US military facility for navy and marines so there’d be no impact on civilian policing operations elsewhere.
Guantanamo’s not short of fencing either — there’s loads of wire mesh already there, just in case any protesters are foolhardy enough to try a land assault.
Granted, the accommodation for delegates isn’t quite up to Lough Erne’s 5 star standards but, as the US keeps assuring the world, conditions at Guantanamo are humane, so it shouldn’t be too much to endure. As the UK’s current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne once put it, “Everyone in our society has had to make a contribution towards dealing with the debts.”
Other advantages exist, too. The signage for Guantanamo wouldn’t need changing, at least not much. The new permanent G8 World HQ could be re-branded as G8anamo, how neat is that?
But the clincher for me is the chewing gum question. Whilst the sidewalks of Enniskillen may bear witness to years of mastication, I’m willing to bet Guantanamo doesn’t have a spent gum problem.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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