By Gary Mulcahy,
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 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 17th 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 the private security firm G4. It has been reported that an estimated £60million 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!
On Saturday 15th 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 demo 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 before making our way to the demonstration. Many participants commented that they could not think of such a “security” presence since the hunger strikes in the early 80’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 politicians – had a proud record of holding frequent mass peaceful demonstrations without any violence. The fact that the state took these measures though 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.
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 and 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 alongside at one point threats 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. 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 real symbol of the failure of the G8’s capitalist crisis!
The atmosphere of police intimidation and lies about opportunities for economic recovery and potential investment following the G8 Summit 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 ordinary people. The G8 Not Welcome campaign succeeded though in exposing the anti-working class, ant-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.
The sight of all the politicians doing a Mexican wave as part of the Barack Obama’s audience in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall also showed the disconnect between many workers and the political establishment. In particular Sinn Fein once again showed their shameless hypocrisy in greeting Obama and the rest of the G8 while sending representatives on the protests in Belfast and Enniskillen against the G8!
Opposition to fracking
In 2012, the G8 signed a communique 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 be 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 it’s natural beauty it would lead to much needed tourism for the region. If fracking is allowed to go ahead however, then tourism itself will be under threat as fracking has the potential to destroy the local environment.
The theme of fracking was to the fore on the demonstration which received support from many local people. Local campaigners addressed the crowd at the perimeter fence which surrounded the G8 Summit. Katie 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 went off without any incidents and as a result has grown in size and influence in Fermanagh.