The G8 conference takes place in Northern Ireland and one of the largest security operations ever seen in the UK has been launched to ensure it is not marred by any incidents or breaches.
The leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest countries are convening at Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, and five thousand Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers are to be backed up by 3,600 specially-trained police personnel from England, Wales and Scotland.
Last month, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggot stated an ambition for the conference to be “the most successful G8 Summit in history” but there remain tensions surrounding the police and potential trouble-makers.
A four-mile security fence has been erected around the Lough Erne Golf Resort, backed up by a secondary razor wire fence through adjoining fields, and an exclusion zone around the Resort extends to the water of the on-site lake and a seven-mile stretch of Lough Erne.
Security has also been increased at Belfast International Airport, while several roads have been closed.
PSNI district commander chief superintendent Pauline Shields said: “I would say the scale of the G8 in Northern Ireland is the biggest operation that the PSNI has ever had to deal with and probably as big as any police service throughout the UK would have dealt with.”
Many eyes have been on Northern Ireland itself and the possibility of anti-capitalist anarchists and dissident republicans causing problems in County Fermanagh, however trouble broke out on the streets of London last week as anti-G8 protesters clashed with police.
A number of anti-capitalist groups labelled a ‘The Week of Action’ in the build-up to the G8, complete with proposed action and protests. Some 57 arrests were made on Wednesday in London as police swooped on an occupied disused police station and raided a building near Liverpool Street.
Metropolitan police commander Neil Basu said there had been anticipation that there would be protests and hit back at claims of heavy-handedness, stating that police “behaved proportionately” in the tactics they used to deal with the protesters.
“What we want to do is help people protest peacefully and within the bounds of the law. It is only when people step outside of that that police have to use their powers to prevent crime and disorder – that’s what the public pays us for,” he said.
Meanwhile the PSNI outlined plans to protect landmark sites across Belfast with increased security provision. This includes the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, the Waterfront Hall, the £90 million Titanic centre and Belfast City Hall.
While estimates for protester numbers in Belfast have been reduced from 40,000 to around 10,000 the fear remains that dissident republican terrorists could see the G8 Summit as an opportunity for global publicity.
Superintendent Alan McCrum, head of the Belfast policing operation, said: “We are protecting the iconic sites from those extreme anarchist elements who may come to Belfast to try to seek to de-stabilise the G8 event and the same time protect iconic sites from any dissident republicans.
“At this point in time there is nothing to suggest to us there is going to be any particular difficulties or challenges in the city.
“We are content to facilitate lawful, peaceful protest but we will deal with any individuals or groups who would seek to infiltrate lawful protest to damage property or create public disorder.”