Obama, Putin & co. came to my homeland, County Fermanagh, this week. It turned out to be one of the most peaceful G8 meetings ever, despite (or because of?) the anxieties of hosting such a high-security event in a region with such a, well, troublesome history of keeping the peace.
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The buzz in Enniskillen in the weeks before – laying cables, building fences, painting houses, planting flowers – contrasted with a strange stillness as 17th June approached. Warned of a £50 million security operation and of delays, diversions and road closures, people simply stayed away, and local businesses didn’t get the windfall of international custom they might have hoped for.
By Sunday 16th, there were just a few protestors’ tents on site. One of them, reported the BBC’s Andy Martin later, belonged to some Danish tourists who hadn’t realised the G8 was on.
And so we kept our peace. The 3000+ extra police from mainland Britain were a model of good behaviour, going out of their way to greet every single passer-by. And – while tensions were rising and blood boiling in Turkey and Brazil – the atmosphere in Northern Ireland remained more country fair than global riot – heck, our police even wore “G8 UK”-branded baseball caps. Team G8 UK is on tour.
But even without the riot gear, there was something creepy about seeing the clumps of black boilersuited police teams, waiting on every corner and every bridge, with seemingly little to police in our little town. Maybe the past wasn’t so far in the past after all. As Andy Martin said, “for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, there were more unarmed police on the streets than there were those with guns.”
Good to see our Northern Ireland behind a new news story – but let’s hope the next one doesn’t involve as many policemen.