Police play down fear of disorder at G8

Massive security operation rolled out at Co Fermanagh venue


Protest disorder around the G8 summit in Northern Ireland will not be as significant as first feared, a senior police commander has predicted.

As a massive security operation is rolled out at the summit venue in Co Fermanagh and at other key sites in the region, Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay has played down concerns of widespread violence.

Mr Finlay said intelligence indicated that “relatively small numbers” of troublemakers are intending to travel to Northern Ireland. He said recent unrest in Turkey had drawn some people from central Europe who might have otherwise been travelling to the G8. The officer said others had decided to make London the focus of their protest.

Mr Finlay warned that dissident republicans opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process could attempt a violent act to highlight their campaign, but said such a strike was unlikely at sites where security is high.

“My belief is it’s relatively small numbers would be wanting to cause trouble and the vast, vast sense of this is people wanting to protest peacefully,” said Mr Finlay.

“The vast majority of people are from Northern Ireland or the island of Ireland and they don’t want us being put on the map for the wrong reasons.”

Ahead of the summit, US president Barack Obama will deliver a keynote address in Belfast on Monday morning. Mr Finlay expressed doubts that dissident republicans would try to disrupt that event or others where security is ramped up.

“The sad reality is the dissidents are there, they will want to draw attention to themselves, but usually in a way that is targeting our people (PSNI officers) and will be away from where the essence of the strong security round an iconic figure like the president would be,” he said.

Police have said the security operation surrounding the summit at the five star Lough Erne Golf Resort is one of the biggest the UK has witnessed. Around 8,000 officers, 3,500 of whom have been called in from Britain, will be deployed on G8 duties over the weekend and through the summit on Monday and Tuesday.

Despite the relatively optimistic assessment about disorder, police have made 260 additional holding cells available in nearby Omagh, Co Tyrone, and in Belfast.

Sixteen judges are on standby to preside over special all-day courts to process a potential influx of arrested demonstrators.

A four-mile security wall has been erected around the resort, a seven-mile stretch of Lough Erne is being closed down and restrictions over air space are being introduced.

Mr Finlay rejected claims the security efforts were over the top.

“It’s prepared against the background of what was potentially likely for us,” he told Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show.

“I think we have seen in recent weeks some de-escalation around this. We know some people wanted to stay in London, and you saw the issues in London (G8 related arrests earlier this month). We know in Europe for example Turkey has drawn a number of people from central Europe and the areas into Turkey who might otherwise have considered coming here.”

He added: “We’ve got to be prepared and have all that equipment and facilities available to us.”

Two main protests are planned over the coming days — in Belfast on Saturday and Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, on Monday evening. Mr Finlay said he anticipated around 5,000 people taking part in the Belfast event, with far fewer in Enniskillen.

The officer said an awareness-raising concert organised by charities and aid agencies in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens on Saturday would see around 1,000 people travel from Scotland and northern England.

Mr Finlay said the police assessment of the threat of disorder was based on “professional judgment” and contacts with police services across Europe and beyond.

“It’s professional judgment, assessment of intelligence, looking to see who is interested in coming, who’s not interested in coming, and using that to come to professional assessment ... based on previous experience, what that might look like,” he said.