Belfast Telegraph

Forget whinging over G8 security bill

By Liam Clarke

Northern Ireland hosts a major international conference and the only local controversy is over the cost of security. It is a 'pinch yourself' moment – one of those times when we should realise how far we have come.

It's also one of those times when some of us demonstrate our love of looking a gift horse in the mouth, not to mention having something to gurn about.

The estimated cost of policing was £50m – and that is likely to rise. The true figures will be published by Westminster later in the year, but the vast bulk of the cost will be borne by London, so it is hard to understand what exactly all the local whinging is about. It marks a capital inflow. Some will go to England in police wages for the 3,500 officers drafted in, but much of it will stick to the tills of local businesses.

Anyway, nobody could expect David Cameron to have just hoped for the best. And nobody could have expected other world leaders to have attended if he did. Northern Ireland has a certain reputation and advance teams were sent to check that it would be safe – an adequate security blanket helped convince them.

They will have noted that the PSNI did raid dissident republican suspects in advance, that some people are up on explosives charges and that the police had drawn on international expertise to handle protests and rioting.

It passed off brilliantly, but there was no guarantee that it would happen without adequate security preparations. As it was, even demonstrators remarked how friendly it had all been.

The last thing we needed was a situation where the venues would have had to be changed at the last minute, such as when the US had to shift from Chicago to Camp David a few years ago.

It would have been a terrible blow to our reputation if the whole shebang had moved to Great Britain due to security fears. It would have confirmed our reputation as a place where it is dangerous to visit or invest; a place where things go wrong.

Conversely a successful summit, the most peaceful ever held, will do us far more good than it would do almost any other region. It really changes the narrative from one of conflict to peace building.

As Theresa Villiers said as the world leaders were packing their bags: "We can now look back at one of the smoothest and safest G8 Summits in memory. But the lack of any serious public order incidents did not happen by chance – it's a real credit to the excellent preparations put in place by the PSNI and its partners, who have done a fantastic job in ensuring the summit was secure and peaceful."

One English police officer working here told me she hadn't expected it to be so peaceful and to enjoy such beautiful scenery. She would have thought it too dangerous to visit – but now she was thinking of coming back with her family for a break.

If people in England think like that, what about somewhere further afield – say, Japan? This week Japanese television viewers will see pictures of their prime minister, Shinzo Abe – who has a 70% approval rating in the polls – enjoying Northern Ireland. They will see him visit the six Japanese companies who employ 2,400 people here and they will hear of plans for expansion. That is the sort of exposure that dramatically changes the image of a region like ours where the last TV images may have been of trouble.

Then there is the G8 branded trade and investment conference in the autumn. When I asked him about its prospects, David Cameron said: "There were quite a few deliverables for Northern Ireland from countries coming in, investment by Japanese businesses for instance. Businesses from different parts of the world have seen the G8 and have seen a great commercial about Northern Ireland. So I hope that we can really encourage high-level participation".

The PM also advertised Northern Ireland to the world at his leaving Press conference, highlighting our transformation from the Troubles to a peaceful society that is not only open for business, but beautiful to behold. It makes you wonder why we arguing about security costs when he is footing the bill.

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