Fortress Ulster - the G8 lockdown begins as Obama and Co head to Fermanagh
The single biggest security operation ever mounted in Northern Ireland has been stepped up to its highest level, three days before the world’s most powerful leaders arrive here for the G8 summit.
Thousands of police from across the UK are being deployed for a massive clampdown that will affect daily life across the province.
An impregnable ring of steel has been thrown around parts of Fermanagh, with hospitals, schools, transport services, airports and communities all facing disruption.
Belfast is expected to experience traffic chaos on Monday, as President Barack Obama jets into Aldergrove on Air Force One before travelling on to Lough Erne.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has warned motorists to travel into Belfast only if necessary on Monday morning.
Belfast Education and Library Board have confirmed many schools will open their doors early and provide breakfast for pupils.
In a memo, the Department of Education warned that the disruption could have a knock-on effect on exams.
All schools in the Belfast area have been told to make contingency plans, and post-primary schools have been advised to open their doors from 7am to pupils sitting GCSE and A-Level exams.
Meanwhile, the Western Health Trust has rescheduled some planned operations and outpatient appointments for the duration of the G8 summit.
PSNI district commander Chief Superintendent Pauline Shields said the G8 security operation across Fermanagh and Belfast is “the biggest operation that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has ever had to deal with”.
“(It is) probably as big as any police service throughout the UK would have dealt with,” Ms Shields said.
The luxurious Lough Erne Resort, which is hosting the G8, is now completely sealed. A four-mile long metal fence surrounds the complex, and razor wire has been laid out in fields and hedgerows around the five-star hotel.
Security checkpoints and guards — including covert patrols of armed Gurkhas — line the route to and around the resort.
Drivers permitted to pass through the towering metal fence have to abide by a 20mph speed limit, under the watchful gaze of security staff positioned every few yards along the Shore Road.
Any gaps in the fence allowing residents access to their homes are under round-the-clock guard.
A 30-tonne water cannon with a 9,000-litre capacity is already stationed on the Shore Road to the hotel, which closed at the beginning of the month.
A seven-mile stretch of Lough Erne will become off-limits in the coming days, to be patrolled by high-speed police boats. Divers will also sweep the waters around the resort.
More than 8,000 officers from across the UK are being deployed to protect the summit venue, and other key sites in Northern Ireland.
Another 3,500 ‘mutual aid’ officers from England, Scotland and Wales will work under PSNI commanders during the summit.
The police operation faces a two-pronged threat from radical anti-capitalist protesters and the ongoing campaign by dissident republicans.
More than 250 additional holding cells have been ringfenced for the G8 in Omagh and in Belfast, which will see a large G8 protest on Saturday.
Sixteen judges are also on standby, with special all-day courts ready to process demonstrators arrested during the summit.
Health authorities are warning people to allow extra time for appointments — particularly in Fermanagh, Belfast and the area around Belfast International Airport.