Northern Ireland needs G8 summit in Fermanagh like a hole in the head, warns Green MLA
Northern Ireland needs the G8 summit "like a hole in the head", an MLA has warned.
Green Party leader Stephen Agnew (below) said he fears protests at the event in June will fuel the province's negative international image resulting from weeks of street violence linked to the flag protests.
It came after pubs and independent traders' representatives insisted there is a "huge job of work" to be done to help restore that reputation in Britain, the Republic and around the world.
Mr Agnew clashed with the DUP's Gordon Dunne as he told Stormont's trade and industry committee: "I think we need the G8 like a hole in the head."
Mr Dunne said he hoped his North Down colleague would not be among the demonstrators at the international gathering in Enniskillen, but Mr Agnew said he would defend anyone's legitimate right to protest.
"Where the G8 goes, protesters follow," the sole Green Party MLA added.
But Glyn Roberts, chief of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail and Trade Association (NIIRTA), replied: "I would not be as pessimistic on the G8.
"We have to be able to demonstrate we can host these world-class events."
He admitted NIIRTA members in Enniskillen have voiced fears over the potential for disruption and the security measures linked to the summit, while he hoped the benefits for traders could be maximised.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Agnew added: "We have had our own protests and now we are going to import more.
"The Our Time, Our Place campaign last year was generally seen as a success but then we had the flag protests. What we don't want going out on the world's media is that Northern Ireland is once again a security issue."
The comments came two days after a British police union leader voiced surprise that Northern Ireland had been chosen by David Cameron as the location – the first time the G8 has met in the UK since Gleneagles in 2005.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said he found it "unbelievable" that such a decision was made by the Government.
Mr Docherty cited recent demonstrations in Belfast and the requirement for officers drafted in from elsewhere in the UK to be trained in the practices of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
"I find it strange that Northern Ireland was chosen as a venue, bearing in mind the amount of pressure and the working conditions that the PSNI is under just now," he said.
Earlier yesterday, the committee heard how a number of pubs in Belfast are facing closure as a result of the disruption over the City Hall displays of the Union flag.
The income of many bars "fell off a cliff" in the run-up to Christmas.
• Ministers believe a multi-million pound boost from hosting the G8 summit will spiral on for years.
• The Executive also believes the timing in June will help revitalise last year's Northern Ireland: Our Time, Our Place tourist campaign.
• The biggest international gathering ever staged in the province should also, it says, win over waverers considering holidaying here.