Belfast Telegraph

Eyes of the world will focus on Fermanagh for G8 summit

Global talks will be biggest event ever staged here

By Adrian Rutherford and Noel McAdam

For two days Fermanagh will become the centre of the world.

David Cameron has handed Northern Ireland a £100m vote of confidence — and pledged that next year’s G8 summit will showcase the region globally.

The Prime Minister vowed the gathering of world leaders would be a “great moment” following confirmation that Fermanagh will be the venue for the high-level conference.

“I want the world to see just what a fantastic place Northern Ireland is,” Mr Cameron said.

The five-star Lough Erne Hotel will play host to the biggest event ever staged here next June as eight of the world’s most powerful leaders jet in for the two-day summit.

An unprecedented security operation will be put in place to guard heads of state including US President Barack Obama, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Despite the huge costs of hosting a world-scale event, it is thought the economic spin-offs could top £100m, with Northern Ireland reaping the benefits for years to come.

Mr Cameron delivered the news during a whistle-stop visit to Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

Speaking at a factory near Craigavon, he said the announcement was good news for Northern Ireland, adding the summit would be a “brilliant advertisement”.

“The world’s leaders are going to be here next year debating the issues that are vital to the future of our world, vital to the future of Northern Ireland and seeing this brilliant, beautiful part of the United Kingdom,” he added.

“And seeing it’s open for business, great for investment, fantastic at training skilled workers ready to take on the world.”

Mr Cameron said he wanted the G8 to focus on three main themes — the fight against protectionism in global trade, action against tax avoidance, and promoting greater transparency and openness in governments and businesses around the world.

It will be the first time the event has been held in the UK for eight years. The 2005 summit at Gleneagles is estimated to have contributed at least £60m to Scotland’s economy, but the 2013 meeting is already being tipped to well exceed that.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who is also an MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It is such a tremendous opportunity to sell one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom to the rest of the world.”

Mrs Foster insisted Northern Ireland was up to the challenge of hosting such a prestigious event.

The summit, scheduled for June 17 and 18, completes a hat-trick of world-scale events next year, including Londonderry’s UK City of Culture extravaganza and the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast.

The chairman of Tourism Ireland, Brian Ambrose, said it was an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the province.

“It will raise the profile of Northern Ireland and ultimately help us achieve our goal of increasing visitor numbers from overseas,” he said.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers pledged to work closely with the Executive to maximise the potential of the G8 summit.

Ms Villiers said it showed the “incredible progress” in Northern Ireland over the last 20 years.

First Minister Peter Robinson said “we will ensure that the message that goes out is that Northern Ireland is not only a top visitor destination, but also a great place to do business”.

How Prime Minister chose a hotel on the edge of the UK to host planet’s top power brokers

By Liam Clarke

The Prime Minister wanted to see what Lough Erne had to offer with his own eyes before he sealed the deal. Several members of the Downing Street machine had been in Northern Ireland since Monday but David Cameron and a small entourage arrived at George Best Airport on Tuesday morning.

They drove straight from the airport to Enniskillen with no fanfare or publicity.

The Prime Minister and his security team had to give the Lough Erne Hotel resort the once over. It was a place he had never previously visited but he was planning to invite the leaders of the world’s eight most powerful nations to the facility: whatever the security advice, their safety was on his shoulders.

Last year Barack Obama, the US President, had to shift the G8 summit from his home city of Chicago to the more remote Camp David in Maryland and hold it a day early because of security fears. Mr Cameron wanted no such hitches and, as the chairman of the G8 next year, the final choice was his alone.

“His mind was pretty much made up — it ticked all the boxes, but he had to physically see it before we said anything definite,” a Downing Street insider revealed.

The bold move of holding the G8 in Northern Ireland, a place still associated with terrorism and insecurity in much of the world, was first mooted in the spring. The man who came up with it was Owen Paterson, the then Secretary of State.

“Owen saw it as something which could not only deliver an immediate economic stimulus wherever it was held but radically transform Northern Ireland’s image” a source said. “He was passionate about it.”

At first Mr Cameron was unsure. He considered other locations and during the summer he sent over security staff from Downing Street to scope the possibilities.

“They consulted the PSNI as well as MI5, and a handful of NIO officials,” one of those involved said.

Still no decision was made and local politicians were not brought into the tight circle of knowledge: “The Prime Minister finally made up his mind that he would hold it somewhere in Northern Ireland when he went there in the summer,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

That was in August when he visited the controversial Giant’s Causeway visitor centre along with Mr Paterson, who continued to bend his ear during the trip. Mr Cameron was being criticised by the First and Deputy First Minister for not being engaged enough with Northern Ireland. The two leaders protested that they had more access to Barack Obama, the US President.

“I don't accept I'm not engaged,” Mr Cameron protested. “In the middle of the Olympics I've chosen to come here to Northern Ireland.”

It was then that he finally decided to bring the G8 summit to the province when he got the Presidency of the G8 in 2013.

He started testing the idea out on people and telling them about it. Irwin Armstrong, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Tories, was let into the secret more than two months before any of the Assembly parties.

“It was at a Prime Minister’s reception for party officials” said Mr Armstrong, checking his diary. “It was on September 5, Wednesday. It was quite a nice day and we were in the garden when the Prime Minster came over to have a word with me,” Mr Armstrong recalled.

Mr Cameron told him: “I have some good news for you, Irwin, but you must not say anything about it for now. I’m going to hold the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next year.”

He moved on to the next guest without giving a location but behind the scenes his security advisers were favouring the Lough Erne Resort.

“It was built on an island connected to the mainland by a causeway, it was self-contained and it was of a high standard,” one official said.

The golf course, designed by Nick Faldo, was also a plus and would give world leaders a chance to relax.

“I hope I won't have any trouble keeping President Obama off the golf course, because it's a pretty amazing golf course, but I think it will be a great moment for Northern Ireland,” Mr Cameron joked yesterday.

The hotel itself will be rescued from administration by the event, which will showcase it to the world. In Northern Ireland, unlike many regions where the summit is held, there will be no great opposition to the event.

Still, it will be a security challenge for the PSNI who, like the Scottish police at Gleneagles before them, will have to bring in outside forces to support them.

Provided they can secure the event this is a good news story that will go around the world. Other major events like the Londonderry City of Culture year and the World Police and Fire Games will put us on the map but the G8 summit, with pictures of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama relaxing on Lough Erne, will ensure that 2013 is another year of “our time, our place”.

Belfast Telegraph