Police play down G8 disorder fears
Protest disorder around the G8 summit in Northern Ireland will not be as significant as first feared, a senior police commander has predicted.
As a massive security operation is rolled out at the summit venue in Co Fermanagh and at other key sites in the region, Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay has played down concerns of widespread violence.
Mr Finlay said intelligence indicated that "relatively small numbers" of troublemakers are intending to travel to Northern Ireland. He said recent unrest in Turkey had drawn some people from central Europe who might have otherwise been travelling to the G8. The officer said others had decided to make London the focus of their protest.
Mr Finlay warned that dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process could attempt a violent act to highlight their campaign, but said such a strike was unlikely at sites where security is high.
"My belief is it's relatively small numbers would be wanting to cause trouble and the vast, vast sense of this is people wanting to protest peacefully," said Mr Finlay. "The vast majority of people are from Northern Ireland or the island of Ireland and they don't want us being put on the map for the wrong reasons."
Ahead of the summit, US president Barack Obama will deliver a keynote address in Belfast on Monday morning. Mr Finlay expressed doubts that dissident republicans would try to disrupt that event or others where security is ramped up.
"The sad reality is the dissidents are there, they will want to draw attention to themselves, but usually in a way that is targeting our people (PSNI officers) and will be away from where the essence of the strong security round an iconic figure like the president would be," he said.
Police have said the security operation surrounding the summit at the five-star Lough Erne Golf Resort is one of the biggest the UK has witnessed. Around 8,000 officers, 3,500 of whom have been called in from Britain, will be deployed on G8 duties over the weekend and through the summit on Monday and Tuesday.
Despite the relatively optimistic assessment about disorder, police have made 260 additional holding cells available in nearby Omagh, Co Tyrone, and in Belfast. Sixteen judges are on standby to preside over special all-day courts to process a potential influx of arrested demonstrators.
A four-mile security wall has been erected around the resort, a seven-mile stretch of Lough Erne is being closed down and restrictions over air space are being introduced.