With just over two weeks to the start of the most important political event to take place in this province – the G8 conference – an air of excitement is starting to build. While we may be used to seeing Presidents Obama and Putin or leaders like Angela Merkel on our television screens, to have them all gather on one spot in this tiny region is a tremendous coup.
And while the leaders will be debating serious issues such as global taxation, which could have far-reaching, and long lasting, consequences, the summit is also vitally important to Northern Ireland. With the blanket news coverage of the event, this is an unparalleled opportunity for the province to sell itself to a global audience, many of whom know the place only by its previous reputation as a trouble hotspot.
Not least, it is a great shop window for our vitally important agri-food sector. While the leaders and their closest advisers are locked down in the Lough Erne hotel resort, they will be able to sample the wide range of excellent foodstuffs produced on our land and garnered from our seas. Perhaps some may even sample the delights of an Ulster fry, putting this culinary delight on the world stage.
Of course, there is another expertise that we can also bring to the table – providing security, putting into practice the harsh lessons learned over many sad years.
Already there are some tall tales of frogmen stationed in the waters of Lough Erne, and US secret service agents posing as gardeners in the grounds of the hotel. But that is all part of the build-up to a quite momentous event and should be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt.
What is really important is that Northern Ireland puts on its most welcoming face for the summit.
We are confident that 99.9% of people here want it to be a success – and it is probably the best advertisement that the province has ever had.
Whatever great affairs of state are decided by the leaders, we can reap a rich reward from a positive portrayal of the new Northern Ireland to a global audience.