Northern Ireland: Defiant opposition to G8 Summit

3,000 march from Enniskillen to summit perimeter fence

Up to 3,000 protesters marched through the streets of Enniskillen on 17 June to oppose the G8 Summit being held at Lough Erne in defiance of the entire establishment and incredible propaganda.

For months all the pro-capitalist press carried articles demonising those who wished to protest against the neo-liberal, imperialist agenda of the G8. The PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) were facilitated by the media in threatening people who wished to protest. An entire wing of Maghaberry prison was sectioned off entirely to hold protesters. An old police barracks was re-opened for the first time in 12 years, in Omagh, to detain protesters arrested. Plans were made to arrest up to 260 protesters a day. The Northern Ireland Assembly Executive authorised special powers to be available to use to allow Sunday court hearings in anticipation of mass arrests before the G8 Summit started on Monday 17 June. PSNI Chief Superintendent, Pauline Shields, warned of the danger of police officers being targeted with acid bombs! Over 10,000 police were involved in protecting the G8, including 3,600 brought from parts of Britain. The army was deployed on the streets of Fermanagh, as well as personnel from the private security firm G4. It has been reported that an estimated £60 million was spent on security alone, but the real figure could be far higher. Working class communities are being told by the politicians in Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly that there is simply no money for keeping hospitals and schools open but there is no shortage of cash for the G8 elite!

Huge scale of police operation

On Saturday 15 June, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions held a 4,000-strong demonstration in Belfast against the G8. Despite it being an official trade union demonstration, the scale of the police operation shocked most participants. Hundreds of riot police lined the route of the march in the city centre. Every street off the route of the demonstration was full of armoured vehicles containing police dogs and more riot police. Dozens of police armed with automatic machine guns inspected the demonstration, as workers, young people, children and pensioners carried trade union placards condemning the austerity agenda of the G8. Socialist Party members were greeted by dozens of riot police outside our offices in the city centre as they made their way to the demonstration. Many participants commented that they could not recall such a “security” presence since the prison hunger strikes in the early 1980’s. Predictably, there was not one instance of trouble on the demonstration despite the provocative actions of the police. Socialist Party members however had to defend the very idea of protests in the media, pointing out that the workers’ movement – unlike the sectarian-based politicians in Northern Ireland – had a proud record of holding frequent mass peaceful demonstrations without any violence. The fact that the state took these measures is a real warning to the trade union and labour movement of what the state is prepared to do in the future to restrict democratic rights and defend their system.

Socialist Party launches ’G8 Not Welcome’

In the months preceding the G8 Summit, the Socialist Party launched ’G8 Not Welcome’ to unite all those opposed to the G8 and to organise protests. The campaign received a lot of coverage in the international media but it had to fight against the constant focus by the local media on groundless smears that protesters would engage in violent attacks on the streets. The PSNI, the media and the Assembly politicians all attempted to whip up fear over people joining protests. At one point, threats were made that those who participated on the G8 Not Welcome protest in Enniskillen faced arrest, losing their job and would by blocked from entry to the US!

Combined with this intimidation, the G8 was presented as being the solution to the economic depression in Northern Ireland. Yet across the North, cities, towns and villages have experienced high levels of emigration. Town centres have been destroyed as a result of the recession and the austerity measures being executed by the Assembly Executive. In the run-up to the G8 Summit, one example of the economic reality made the headlines across the world. Fake shop fronts were designed in Enniskillen to cover up the dilapidated empty retail units. But these shop fronts are now common across the North. The fact that the luxury hotel which hosted the G8 Summit at Lough Erne was itself in administration (it was owned by Allied Irish Bank) was not lost on people either – a potent symbol of the failure of the G8’s capitalist system!

The atmosphere of police intimidation and the lies about opportunities for economic recovery and potential investment following the G8 Summit all had a certain impact. The G8 also is not as obvious a target for protest as it once was at the height of the anti-capitalist movement. Mass struggles have also shifted towards other capitalist institutions, such as the EU, IMF and individual national governments imposing austerity on working people. The G8 Not Welcome campaign succeeded though in exposing the anti-working class, anti-environment and austerity agenda of the G8. The completely excessive “security” operation though also had an effect of steeling a layer of radical activists who became even more determined to join the protest. A packed meeting organised by G8 Not Welcome in Belfast, addressed by the trade union leaders backing the protest, had to turn people away from the hotel venue because there was no room space left.

The sight of all the local politicians performing a ‘Mexican wave’ when they were part of an audience at Barack Obama’s pre-summit appearance at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall also showed the chasm between many workers and the political establishment. In particular, Sinn Fein, once again, showed their shameless hypocrisy by warmly greeting Obama and the rest of the G8 leaders while sending Sinn Fein representatives on the protests in Belfast and Enniskillen against the G8!

Opposition to fracking

In 2012, the G8 signed a communiqué announcing support for the use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as it is more popularly known. Fracking is a drilling technique which involves injecting toxic chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water under high pressure directly into the ground to release natural gas in shale deposits. It has become a major issue for many communities across the world as a result of the environmental damage it has caused. It has even been blamed for triggering earthquakes, in some instances. The Northern Ireland Assembly Executive recently gave permission to Tamboran – an Australian-based drilling and energy company – to begin drilling in Fermanagh (and surrounding areas) in 2014 despite massive opposition in the area. One of the reasons given for choosing Fermanagh to host the G8 was its natural beauty and that the summit publicity would lead to much needed tourism for the region. If fracking is allowed to go ahead however, then tourism will be under threat, as fracking has the potential to destroy the local environment.

The theme of fracking was to the fore on the anti-G8 demonstration in Enniskillen, which received support from many local people. Local campaigners addressed the crowd at the perimeter fence which surrounded the G8 Summit. Kate McClintock, who spoke on behalf of Socialist Youth, gave a fierce speech on the conditions facing young people in Fermanagh and across the North, condemning the sectarian parties in the Assembly who recently cut Education Maintenance Allowance to school students. The demonstration had the official support of many trade unions, such as Unison, Unite, NIPSA, PCS and the FBU. The Socialist Party was central to organising the good-humoured and very political demonstration, which proceeded without any incidents and, as a result of the successful anti-G8 protest, the Socialist Party has grown in size and influence in Fermanagh.

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