Broad welcome for G8 summit but Sinn Fein critical

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All Northern Ireland’s main political parties bar Sinn Fein gave an unqualified welcome to news that the G8 summit will take place in Fermanagh in June 2013.

The DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance Party all gave a resounding welcome to the news on Tuesday, however Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness declined to do the same, with one of his party colleagues noting that “Sinn Fein has been very critical of it [the G8] in the past”.

Absent was the normal joint statement from the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister yesterday and in its place were separate DUP and Sinn Fein statements reacting to the planned visit by leaders of the eight wealthiest countries in the world.

The news was confirmed yesterday in Portadown by Prime Minister David Cameron, who will chair the summit.

First Minister Peter Robinson responded: “I very much welcome the announcement from the Prime Minister that the G8 summit will be held in Northern Ireland in June next year. The decision is indicative of the Prime Minister’s confidence in Northern Ireland and I thank him for his decision to host the summit in Fermanagh and appreciate his continued efforts in helping us to promote Northern Ireland on the global stage.”

He said it was “a massive boost” to welcome the leaders from the US, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and the UK.

By contrast, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness did not express welcome at the news.

“The more important issue than the location of the G8 summit is the impact that it will have on many millions of people throughout the world,” he said.

“The leaders of the G8 countries need to address the economic crisis that faces the world and also the very grave situation in the Middle East. Ireland, north and south, has suffered terribly as the result of the world recession caused by the irresponsible behaviour of financial institutions and some governments.”

He added: “I hope G8 leaders, when they come to Fermanagh, will recognise and accept the need to do something deep and profound to assist people, many millions of whom are the poorest on the planet today.”

Sinn Fein MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Phil Flanaghan said: “Whatever about the politics of the G8, and Sinn Fein has been very critical of it in the past, I’m sure most in Fermanagh will be happy with the visit of the US President to the county.”

He added: “Locating the G8 summit on the island of Ireland will not, I suspect, bring any relief to the economic difficulties we are facing on this island.”

TUV leader Jim Allister also welcomed the G8 visit, but at the same time challenged Sinn Fein.

“Today is an opportune time for us to reflect on the attitude of Sinn Fein/IRA to G8 summits in the past,” he said.

“Back in 2005 they boasted that Barry McElduff was one of the ‘international speakers’ addressing a so-called G8 Alternatives Summit in Edinburgh. Republican News informed readers: ‘The G8 Alternatives Summit brought together leading human rights campaigners, political activists and environmental thinkers from all parts of the world to do battle with the ideas and strategies of the G8 leaders meeting in Gleneagles’.”

He said Republican News described protests against the summit in the following terms: ‘While the elites of the G8 states are very powerful, it is at least a timely reminder that they are being watched, challenged and confronted. While these demonstrations aren’t likely to result in political upheaval and overthrow any time soon, it is encouraging for progressive forces to see that the pressure is being maintained.’

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said that the Prime Minister’s decision to host G8 in Enniskillen is a clear signal of the growing confidence that exists in Northern Ireland.

Accompanying the Prime Minister on his visit yesterday, she said: “This is a very exciting and important opportunity for Northern Ireland. Bringing the G8 leaders to Northern Ireland demonstrates the growing confidence that exists in this part of the United Kingdom. It will highlight what Northern Ireland, its people and its businesses have to offer to the global community, companies and tourists.

“We are in a global race. G8 will showcase a modern, confident and forward-looking Northern Ireland to the world with its potential for inward investment and tourism.”

Fermanagh and South Tyrone UUP MLA Tom Elliott gave his full support to the G8 plans.

“This is absolutely tremendous news for Northern Ireland as a whole and the county of Fermanagh in particular, and I have total confidence that we can deliver on this in June of next year,” he said.

“Fermanagh is the most westernly part of the United Kingdom and this decision is a very clear public demonstration of our position as an integral part of the United Kingdom.”

His party colleague, Jim Nicholson MEP, added: “This gives us the opportunity to put Northern Ireland on the international map once more and underlines the transformation that has taken place.”

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said it will be “a fantastic opportunity for one of our most beautiful counties to gain not only international recognition, but also a much-needed economic boost”.

He added that it was a chance “for the world’s most powerful and influential people to see what Fermanagh has to offer”.

Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson MLA said it is an opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland.

“To have politicians such as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama in our country at the same time will obviously add prestige and honour to our small part of the world,” he said.

UKIP MLA David McNarry agreed. “This is a tremendous first for Northern Ireland” and “particularly good news because the resort was brought under administration last year”, he said.

But the Socialist Party yesterday said that “the G8 are not welcome” and added that “major protests will be planned to oppose this summit”.

Spokesman Paddy Meehan said: “The G8 is an undemocratic gathering of political figures who represent big business, greedy bankers and a capitalist system which is making workers and young people pay for their crisis.”

Christian Aid’s education and campaigns co-ordinator David Thomas welcomed the visit, adding that with it there will be “an increased interest and opportunity to raise awareness of the root causes of poverty. These include climate change and tax-dodging by multinational companies”.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland spokesman Patrick Corrigan said that “with war, repression and extreme poverty blighting the lives of billions of people, the summit is an opportunity for G8 leaders to face up to the world’s most pressing problems. That is why human rights and international development must top the agenda for world leaders when they assemble in Northern Ireland next June.”