Council, Minister deny bid to ‘hide’ recession from G8 delegates

Reports of ‘pop up villages’ rejected as ‘wholly inaccurate’

A “pretend” butcher’s shop in the village of Belcoo, Co Fermanagh. Some vacant stores and shops in the village have large wraparound stickers placed on the windows to give the impression from a distance of an occupied business. The G8 summit will take place in nearby Lough Erne resort. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Fermanagh council has rejected suggestions its spending of public funds on improvement works in the county is aimed at hiding the effects of the recession from delegates to the G8 summit.

The Irish Times reported last week that locals in the Border village of Belcoo were not impressed by efforts to cover the windows of vacant businesses with images of stocked shelves. Reports have spread widely in the interim, with significant interest in the story from across the US and the EU.

Reacting to the controversy, the local council said the county faced the same problems as anywhere else but added that retail businesses in Enniskillen were doing well.

“Some media reports have described the window screening piece of work as ‘putting up fake store fronts on shuttered businesses’ or the ‘establishing of pop-up villages’. These media reports are wholly inaccurate,” said a council statement.


'Shopping destination'
It added: "Enniskillen is an attractive shopping destination. The retail industry is buoyant with the local shopping centre in Enniskillen recently submitting an application to extend its premises.

"Businesses in Co Fermanagh face the same challenges as businesses around the world with sectors like agriculture and construction in decline. However, Co Fermanagh has a strong entrepreneurial base with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses in the county and a growing agri-food sector."

Stormont Minister for the Environment Alex Attwood also denied there was any attempt to hide the reality of the recession from international gaze.

Dereliction programme
Under measures to improve the appearance of Enniskillen and local villages in advance of the G8 summit in two weeks, some £375,000 (€437,000) has been made available to nearly 150 premises under a dereliction programme. Similar plans were rolled out in advance of the Irish Open golf championship in Co Antrim last year.

The SDLP Minister also criticised local Sinn Féin Assembly member Phil Flanagan who said the cash was used to push "a big lie" that austerity policies were working in the county.

The Impartial Reporter, Enniskillen's local newspaper, quoted the Minister: "It is a strange place that useful and visible improvements are derided."

Referring to Mr Flanagan, he added: “What would the MLA have us do – spend nothing and let the area not measure up to the opportunity to showcase Fermanagh?”

Mr Flanagan replied: "As I stated in The Irish Times and which appears to have been ignored in Alex Attwood's ludicrous response, I have no problem with this work and it is great to see local painters getting so much work.

“However . . . this investment is an effort to mask the negative impacts that austerity is having on the Fermanagh economy.”