Remote Summit Venue Keeps Town Silent With Few ProtestersRobert Hutton
The streets of Enniskillen, the Northern Ireland town hosting the Group of Eight summit, were quiet as Leo McGreal stood outside his barber shop, smoking a pipe and laughing about the fuss caused by the preparations.
“It’s not at all what people were expecting,” the 65-year-old McGreal said. “We were expecting the streets to be like city streets, full of people.”
The 12,000-person town is 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Belfast -- any further and it would be over the Irish border. It lacks the infrastructure or facilities usually associated with international conferences, to the horror of some reporters who found themselves in hotels miles from the summit, served by shuttle buses running at 90-minute intervals.
Two delegations ended up staying in a different country. The Russian government, tired of waiting to hear from the U.K. where it planned to put its members, booked a hotel in Sligo, Ireland, 30 miles away. The American press is in the same town.
Summit organizers weren’t always speedy in getting people to their hotels. It took them five hours in the middle of the night to transport some journalists from Belfast to the summit on the evening of June 16. Beda Romano was one of two Italian reporters unable to get to their hotel who ended up sleeping in a gym close to the media center along with a U.K. colleague.
The remote location of the Lough Erne golf resort, where the two-day summit is being held, provides an intimate setting for discussions. It also has the advantage, from the point of view of organizers, of being hard to reach.
It’s a tough to come here, said Darren Carnegie, a 24-year-old protest veteran from Glasgow, Scotland. “People have been told as soon as they get here, they’ll be put into jail. They’re scared to come.”
He was standing next to just eight tents on the sports ground set aside for protesters. The police deployed 8,000 officers in the area, at a cost of 50 million pounds ($78 million). Later in the evening, some broke through a perimeter fence protecting the summit. They were persuaded to go back without any arrests or violence, according to witnesses and the police.
John Kirton, the director of the G-8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, said Cameron is missing opportunities by restricting the access of journalists and campaigners.
“It’s really stupid to have the bulk of the media far away, it stops the leaders getting their messages out,” he said in a telephone interview from Belfast, where he’s based having been refused access to a summit for the first time. “And you can use civil society to put pressure on the G-8 to agree your agenda, as Tony Blair did in 2005.”
That year, at the Gleneagles summit in Scotland, Blair encouraged the Make Poverty History campaign to organize demonstrations and a rock concert in support of his policies. The clashes between protesters and police were on a grander scale, too, with riot officers supported by military Chinook helicopters charging people who tried to break through to the summit.
This summit is being run on a tighter budget than Gleneagles. Journalists were charged 150 pounds each to attend. In 2005, each received a goody bag containing a 750ml (25 fluid ounce) bottle of Scotch whisky. This time the bottle of whisky is 50ml.
In France, in 2010, G-20 banners proclaimed that “History is being written in Cannes.” At this summit, the banners are for a festival honoring the Irish writer Samuel Beckett in two months. “Nothing to be done,” they read.
Protesters gathered yesterday close to Enniskillen’s main street before setting off on a march toward the Lough Erne resort. A jazz band played as they assembled. Among the groups demonstrating were socialists, anti-fracking campaigners and anti-austerity organizations. Police put the numbers at 700.
One area where money has been spent is covering up some of the empty shops in Enniskillen, where the main street bears the scars of recession. Photos of thriving fashion shops from somewhere else have been printed on cardboard and screwed to the window frames. It has caused amusement locally, according to McGreal.
“Some American paper said it was a fake town,” he said, stamping his foot on the pavement. “Quite solid.”