State of affairs at Lough Erne
Attending the summit in June will be (left to right): Barack Obama, David Cameron, Enda Kenny, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Valdimir Putin
World leaders are expected in Fermanagh in June, where an Irish welcome awaits them at Lough Erne Resort, writes Rosita Boland
I have slept in Barack Obama’s bed. Tiny correction: I have slept in a bed at the Lough Erne Resort, in Co Fermanagh, that Obama may possibly be sleeping in during the G8 Summit in June. He’s definitely sleeping in one of the beds there, so I like to think he’ll be allocated the lake-view room 112, which was the one I occupied last weekend.
The five-star Lough Erne Resort will host the G8 Summit on June 17th and 18th, when heads of state will gather to have Very Important Talks about the world economy. Joining Obama will be Enda Kenny, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, David Cameron – as well as the Canadian, Japanese and Italian leaders, and representatives from the European Union.
It’s either ironic or apt that these world leaders will be staying at a resort that is a textbook example of the downturn in the international economy. The Lough Erne was developed at a cost of €35 million and opened in 2007. There are two golf courses – one designed by Nick Faldo – two clubhouses, two golf villages containing 66 houses in total, 25 lodges and a 59-bedroom hotel.
The complex has since gone into administration, and last autumn offers were being sought in the region of €12.4 million. “But it’s off the market for the time being,” its avuncular general manager, Ferghal Purcell, stresses. He hopes the international attention focused on the resort, and on Fermanagh, in June will help find a buyer.
Purcell is sitting chatting in the Gordon Wilson Library in the hotel; the resort is only a few kilometres from Enniskillen. The resort is located on a small peninsula that juts out into lakes, so from a security perspective, it’s presumably easier to manage in terms of access, although the swans on the lake may be meeting a lot of Secret Service frogmen in the near future.
The site has its own helipads, which is presumably how the heads of state will arrive. Most things are “presumably” at this stage, as Purcell is being drip-fed information about the logistics by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is handing the summit. “I went to Gleneagles to talk to them about their experience of hosting the G8, and they said there’s only one premise, and it’s that everything keeps changing all the time.” Purcell doesn’t even know yet how many are due. “We do know the Americans will have a huge delegation.”
It is also known that members of the public who own houses at the two golf villages have been asked nicely to vacate for the duration, and are being compensated for this. Every bed on-site will be full. “I’m hearing every bed in the county is full,” Purcell says.
He and other staff members are agog with excitement about hosting the summit. As far as possible, all the additional staff hired will be local, as will the food served, showcasing the best of Northern Irish produce at key dinners.
As for where some of the most powerful men and women in the world will sit down to conduct their business, the hotel has one big function room that can seat 280 for dinner, as well as a charming private dining room, the main Catalina restaurant and a bar.
There are several gas-powered fireplaces in the reception rooms, but only one real open fire, so those delegates wishing to get rid of their notes will have to take it in turns burn any top-secret documents.
There are a number of conference rooms in the hotel, all of which will be used. The smallest seats 10, and is supplied with a box of tissues, which may come in handy for Enda Kenny should he hear any more bad news about the economy. Every table will have bowls of sweets: that classic chocolate toffee, Emeralds, to be precise. “We can’t get enough of them,” Purcell says. “Delegates love Emeralds.”
For down time, should there be any, there are the two golf courses and an opportunity to look at one of Rory McIlroy’s golf bags, on display in the Loughside Grill. There’s also a spa and pool, both currently closed for rebuilding after a fire started in the sauna the day before David Cameron announced the location for the summit.
The resort is working hard on developing its communications system, a vital aspect to any international political gathering. At the moment, the only wifi access is via a 24-hour BitBuzz code, which a porter quaintly delivers to the room on a piece of paper. Some of the mobile networks also have blackspots. But by June, everything will be in its state-of-the-art place.
However, should the new wifi system go down and a head of state need to do some urgent research, there is a back-up: in the Gordon Wilson Library, they can consult one of the sets of Children’s Britannica or Encyclopaedia Britannica shelved there in their scores.