Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Thanks Dave...for putting us on the map

The G8 summit may not be good for peace, the poor, or the planet. But, without a shadow of a doubt, it's good for Northern Ireland, writes Michael Wolsey

SONY DSC
Michael Wolsey
Picture postcard: The Lough Erne resort

Thanks Dave ... for putting us on map

The 'G' in 'G8' stands for Group, but it could just as well stand for Great, or Good, as in the sardonic phrase, 'the Great and the Good'. They are the high and mighty, billed as the eight most powerful nations on earth.

They think they're great and their leaders, who are bringing their annual summit to Fermanagh next week, believe they only do good.

Others beg to differ. They wonder how the eight most powerful nations on earth can include Italy, but exclude China. And why there is no seat at the table for up-and-coming powers, such as Brazil and India.

If Canada is in, why is Australia out? If Japan has a vote, why is South Korea disenfranchised? And why is no African representative at the table? Their continent lacks clout but, God knows, it does not lack problems.

Other issues are raised about these once-a-year gatherings. The summits cost a fortune and are too short and infrequent to really get to grips with the world's problems.

The G8 leaders, it is said, rarely reach full agreement on anything and are no better at predicting world trends than the rest of us.

The last time the United Kingdom hosted a G8 summit was at Gleneagles in 2005. Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Gordon Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer and Gerhard Schroder chancellor of Germany. George Bush was the US president.

The storm clouds of recession were gathering, but these mighty men seemed blissfully unaware of them as they talked about doubling aid, scrapping Third World debt and grandiose schemes for curbing emissions and reversing climate change. Few of their fine plans have come to fruition.

But, oddly, since we are hosting the conference, the success, or failure, of the G8 is not of immediate concern to Northern Ireland. What matters to us is the success of the conference itself, in terms not of its outcome, but its smooth running.

The G8 may, or may not, be good for the poor and peace and the planet. But in 2013 it is, beyond doubt, good for Northern Ireland.

This summit is an opportunity for favourable publicity that we could not have dreamt of 30 years ago. Anyone suggesting such an event during the dark days of the Troubles would have been greeted with derision.

Those troubled years still cloud the international vision of Northern Ireland. People are not as interested in us as we like to think.

Yes, they are vaguely aware that things have improved and the country is peaceful. But when they hear mention of Belfast, or Londonderry, the first image that springs to most minds is still of bombs, violence and sectarian strife.

These are images which those who sell the country to tourists, or foreign business executives, must battle against every day. For them, the G8 summit is manna from heaven.

The world's most influential politicians are paying us a visit. They are bringing with them hundreds of officials, people who, among other things, direct investment, organise conferences and plan regional development.

They are being followed by more than 1,000 journalists, influential shapers of world opinion. As well as reporting on the summit, most of them will write a little bit about Northern Ireland. Some of them will write a lot about us.

The G8 leaders will not have many opportunities to see the beauty of our country, sample its fine food, or enjoy our hospitality. But the journalists and officials will.

So we shouldn't be moaning about spending a few bob on tidying Enniskillen, or sprucing up a few villages. It's like being given a chance to appear on the world's biggest TV show and complaining that you'll have to buy a new shirt.

It's depressing to hear snide comments, because a few empty shops have been done up to make it look like they are still in business.

Did you never do up your front parlour when important visitors were coming?

Putting on a good face is the most natural thing in the world. And, on experience elsewhere, it will be well rewarded.

In 2010, Canada spent more than £500m on hosting the G8 summit, followed immediately by a meeting of the wider G20. About £20m of this went on public works and more than £50m on hosting foreign visitors and other promotional activity.

A group from Toronto University later studied the expenditure and concluded that, whatever the value of the conference itself, the money for promotional activity was well spent and soon recouped by growth in tourism and investment in business.

A modest £300,000 has been spent on giving a facelift to Enniskillen and the area around Lough Erne Resort where the G8 conference is being held.

The real money is being spent by the Westminster Government, which is footing most of the bill for security and hosting.

We should be grateful for it – and for the vote of confidence David Cameron gave us by bringing the summit here.

Let us hope and pray it goes well. A chance like this will not come again.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk