Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

'The world has seen the new Northern Ireland', says David Cameron at the end of a successful G8

Prime Minister David Cameron holds a press conference at the end of this year's G8 Summit on Lough Erne near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.  Photo by Matt Cardy/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron holds a press conference at the end of this year's G8 Summit on Lough Erne near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. Photo by Matt Cardy/PA Wire

Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the G8 summit as the most peaceful in recent memory, insisting the whole world has now seen the new Northern Ireland.

Mr Cameron said the fact the high profile event was hosted in the region, and without incident, was proof of how much it had changed as a result of the peace process.

After two days that witnessed no disorder, never mind the pitched clashes between police and protesters played out at previous summits around the world, the Prime Minister praised all involved with putting on the event at the Lough Erne Golf Resort near Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

He noted that in 1987 Enniskillen was in global headlines for very different reasons - when an IRA bomb killed 11 people attending a Remembrance Day Service at the town's war memorial.

"Twenty five years ago when a terrible bomb killed 11 people just a few miles down the road, a G8 in Co Fermanagh would have been unimaginable," he said.

"Today the world has seen the new Northern Ireland. Not only beautiful, but a Northern Ireland which is open for business, a Northern Ireland that is bringing down the peace walls which have separated its people for so long; a Northern Ireland determined to be defined by a shared future, not by a divided past.

"It is a transformation that I believe can be an inspiration for the world. All of the G8 leaders commented on how remarkable to hold this G8 here, what a powerful message it sent and what it meant for them. That transformation was made possible by the determination of so many people in all sections of the community."

Stressing the opportunities that the G8 could open up, Mr Cameron said he would attend an investment conference in Northern Ireland in October.

"I think businesses in different parts of the world watching the G8 will have seen a great, commercial Northern Ireland," he said.

"I hope we can encourage participation in that event."

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this evening hosted a business event for potential Japanese investors at the landmark Titanic Belfast visitors centre.

On Monday US President Barack Obama praised the progress made in Northern Ireland but emphasised more work lay ahead, highlighting the community tensions and divisions that still existed and the need to address issues such as segregated education and housing.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness have pledged to address these challenges in a new community integration strategy, which includes a pledge to bring down peace walls dividing communities within ten years. But critics claims the pace of change is too slow.

On the G8 specifically, Mr Cameron said the people of Northern Ireland had been "incredibly welcoming". He also reserved special praise for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

"They performed magnificently," he said.

"Did a brilliant job. This even has probably been the most peaceful G8, and least disruptive of G8s in recent memory. It says a lot about the state of Northern Ireland and that's the positive message people can take away."

Mindful of scenes of disorder that marked previous G8 summits, including the last time one was held in the UK, at Gleneagles in 2005, security chiefs had prepared for the worst.

More than 8,000 were deployed on G8 duties in the biggest police operation ever mounted in Northern Ireland. The total included 3,600 mutual aid officers called up from other forces across the UK.

Police also erected additional holding cells so they had the capacity to hold 260 protesters at any one time - 350 were arrested on the first day of Gleneagles - while 16 judges were on stand-by to preside over special all day courts.

In the event they were not required.

At the close of the summit only two people had been arrested in Northern Ireland in connection with G8 disorder. A bomb was discovered in Lough Erne, but it was from the Second World War, fired by stationed American servicemen who used the lough as a firing range.

A 2,000 strong anti G8 march through Belfast on Saturday passed off peacefully, while a similar parade and rally in Fermanagh last night, attended by more than 1,000 also was without major incident.

Instead an idyllic yet remote town in one of the most westerly reaches of the UK was showcased in its best light all across the world. The sun even shone for two days.

Businesses and hoteliers now hope they will reap the dividends.

Local hotel manager Rodney Watson hopes the event can provide a boost for the tourist trade - the lifeblood of the Fermanagh economy.

But he said more now needed to be done to promote the area.

"Potentially there should be ten times as many boats in the Lough," he said.

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