G8: The security tightens, the tension rises, the preparations speed up
Driving out of Enniskillen on Wednesday evening, something suddenly caught my eye in the mirror. A dark saloon car with Dublin registration plates, unnervingly like the one which had been sitting behind me at traffic lights on the other side of town 10 minutes earlier.
Don’t be silly, it’s a different vehicle, I told myself. But as I drove further on, my attention was constantly drawn back to it.
I tried to slow down a little, hoping the driver would overtake me.
After another mile or so my patience finally snapped. I indicated, pulled over, and let the car flash past. It sped off into the distance and I never saw it again.
Was it the CIA? The Secret Service? Russian spies?
Erm, no, it wasn’t. It was nothing more than another impatient motorist wanting to get home and irked by my slow, nervous driving.
But then spending the afternoon around the Lough Erne Resort does little to ease your sense of paranoia.
I had just come from an area where my every move was being watched. Over the last few weeks, this tranquil stretch of the Fermanagh Lakelands has been dramatically transformed into the most militarised zone in Europe.
I had visited the resort complex, the venue for the G8 Summit, on Monday morning to see the huge security operation at first hand. By Wednesday evening, just hours before the site went into complete lockdown, that operation had massively increased.
After approaching the police checkpoint which blocks off the Shore Road passing the hotel, my car was stopped and an officer asked where I was going. Satisfied, I was allowed to proceed to a second checkpoint operated by G4S staff a few metres away.
A security official glanced suspiciously at me before raising an intimidating yellow barrier.
Now inside the giant metal fence which is wrapped around the resort, I was instructed to abide by the 20mph speed limit.
The eyes of security staff, positioned every few yards along the road, carefully followed my journey. Around a dozen green huts have been erected along the verge.
Looking to the side, coils of freshly mounted barbed wire have been laid out across fields and hedgerows.
The handful of gaps in the perimeter fence allowing access to private homes and fields are guarded around the clock by security staff and barriers. Although I can’t see them, security sources told me that armed Gurkhas are covertly patrolling the area.
Further along the road, a 30-tonne water cannon is parked by the roadside. Capable of holding up to 9,000 litres, it is a formidable sight.
At the entrance to the Lough Erne Resort, heavy black barriers have been erected at the police checkpoint since Monday. I was again stopped and asked for identification.
Further along the way into the hotel, a second PSNI checkpoint had been set up.
Two marquees had also been freshly erected and these were guarded by PSNI Land Rovers. Uniformed officers were everywhere.
So too the mysterious men with US accents, dark shades and long coats. Dozens of them.
I had the constant feeling that I was being watched. With very good reason. The truth is, I almost certainly was.
At one of the resort’s chalets, two of these American strangers were trying to manoeuvre a large metal machine which looked like a cooker.
Compared to the relaxed vibe around Enniskillen, the atmosphere here was tense.
Earlier, after calling at a nearby shop selling G8 ice creams, I was unnerved to see a convoy of US agents pull up. Some went inside while the others sat impassively in the car.
According to shop staff, American agents have been calling every day for the last week.
Back at the hotel, frantic final preparations were taking place under the close supervision of police and plain-clothed officials.
Numerous BT, electrical and builders’ vans were positioned around the grounds. Some of the hotel’s windows have apparently been replaced with bullet-proof glass.
Driving away from the resort, my movements were tracked by more roadside security staff.
A few hours after I left, the area was shut down for all but a handful of residents and security-vetted hotel staff. It is understood anyone without a pass will be allowed through only in the event of a sudden death.
Yesterday I went back for another glimpse at the preparations. About three miles from the resort I was stopped by the PSNI and told there will be no further access. My only option was to turn back.