DCSIMG

G8 at Lough Erne highlighted the link with Britain

President of the European Commission , Jose Manuel Barroso (left) is joined by (from left to right), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister David Cameron, US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and EU President Herman van Rompuy as they pose for a family photograph at the G8 Summit on Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 18, 2013. See PA story POLITICS G8. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

President of the European Commission , Jose Manuel Barroso (left) is joined by (from left to right), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister David Cameron, US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and EU President Herman van Rompuy as they pose for a family photograph at the G8 Summit on Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 18, 2013. See PA story POLITICS G8. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

The G8 was a triumph for many things.

It was a triumph for tourism in Fermanagh, and specifically the financially troubled Lough Erne Resort, which was beamed around the world as a scenic location.

It was a triumph, more broadly, for the image of Northern Ireland as an attractive and stable place, suited to serious business and serious pleasure.

It was a triumph for David Cameron, who seems a natural in the role of international leader and host – more on him below.

It may or may not have been a triumph for some pressing global matters such as tax transparency and Syria, depending on your point of view and on your assessment of the extent to which the leaders found meaningful common ground on those matters.

But it can also be argued that it was a triumph for the Union with Great Britain.

Plenty of determined opponents of the British link, such as Martin McGuinness, might disagree. They also saw the G8 as a triumph, but presumably they do not feel it damaged their aspirations to remove the border.

A successful G8 was, they might argue, good for the region, regardless of its national status at this point in time.

They are, perhaps, or to a degree, correct. Yet, as things stand right now, it has rarely been so apparent that Northern Ireland is part of the UK.

During the Second World War it was very clear to American leaders and so on that Northern Ireland was British, and part of the Allied war effort, while the Republic was independent, and neutral.

Washington and London pushed hard to get Dublin to join them in the conflict.

But global mass media was in its infancy in the 1940s, and with so much upheaval elsewhere, it must be doubtful whether people in Bordeaux or Baltimore had more than the vaguest sense of tensions caused by the Irish frontier.

While it is equally unlikely that people in Bordeaux or Baltimore were this week glued to their TV screens watching events in Enniskillen, the G8 summits are so massive that informed people around the world generally have at least a fleeting sense when one has taken place.

They may see no more than a few seconds of it on CNN on the screen above them as they grab a coffee in New York, or a picture on the front page of a newspaper in India before they turn to the cricket on the back page.

But this year that footage, that photograph, was of a British prime minister playing host to the other major leaders in a place called Northern Ireland that is part of the nation that he governs.

A place which, many people will remember, has a football team, and from which Rory McIlroy hails. ‘Does he play golf right there at that hotel?’, they might have been wondering at the country clubs in Arizona when the Lough Erne resort flashed up in the background.

Holding the G8 in Fermanagh was akin to Germany holding it in a south-western corner of its territory near Switzerland.

The Swiss premier might be warmly invited to attend part of the proceedings as a friendly neighbour, but there would be no doubt that Angela Merkel was the host.

The idea of Lough Erne seems to have been largely David Cameron’s – who described Fermanagh in the House of Commons on Wednesday as “a remarkable part of our country”.

He will almost certainly only host one G8 summit (they only come to each nation every eight years) and he chose the Province as the location for his.

The Prime Minister has come under heavy criticism of late, often from within his party, and he has been the subject of almost continuous criticism in Northern Ireland, from unionists, let alone nationalists. Yet he is the most outspokenly unionist premier since Margaret Thatcher.

All occupants of No 10 in living memory have been unionist, in the sense that none has actively sought to undermine the link (the person most accused of that was Mrs Thatcher, who until the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement was a heroine to unionists. She ultimately came to be popular again, if warm unionist tributes at her death are a gauge).

Mr Cameron, who supported the UCUNF link-up between the Tories and Ulster Unionists, broke away from the notion that Prime Ministers have to be neutral brokers over Northern Ireland, an approach that was prevalent after the 1993 Downing Street Declaration affirmed that Britain has no “selfish or strategic interest in Northern Ireland”.

Why, many pro-Union voices in Whitehall had asked, can Dublin give support to nationalists, and London not give the equivalent to unionists? The bold decision to hold the G8 in Fermanagh was met with scepticism by some observers.

And yet the failure of dissidents, the only group that now rejects the principle of consent that currently underscores Northern Ireland’s position in the UK, to disrupt even the margins of the summit has left them looking less of a threat than they did a few weeks ago.

 

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