ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron says leaders gathering Monday for the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland should reach speedy agreement on trade and tax reforms, and draw inspiration from the host country’s ability to resolve its own stubborn conflict.
Speaking hours ahead of the summit’s official opening at a lakeside golf resort, Cameron said he expects formal agreement to launch negotiations on a European-American free trade agreement. He said a pact to slash tariffs on exports would boost employment and growth on both sides of the Atlantic.
“This will be a summit that will drive growth and prosperity all over the world,” Cameron declared as he arrived at the summit venue ahead of leaders from the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Italy and Japan as well as the 27-nation European Union.
Referring to Northern Ireland’s ability to leave behind a four-decade conflict that claimed 3,700 lives, he said leaders of the Group of Eight wealthy nations should be inspired by the setting – the lush lakelands of County Fermanagh – to deliver their own economic breakthrough.
“Ten or 20 years ago, a G-8 in Fermanagh would have been unimaginable. But today Northern Ireland is a very different place … a symbol of hope to the world,” Cameron said.
Obama, seizing on that theme, told a Belfast audience at the start of his visit that Northern Ireland’s young generation must take the lead in building on the U.K. region’s U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord of 1998. About 1,800 teenagers from Northern Ireland’s predominantly segregated school system applauded his message with enthusiasm.
Obama endorsed a plan recently unveiled by Northern Ireland’s unity government to tear down so-called “peace lines” – security walls that separate British Protestant and Irish Catholic turf – by 2023. He also offered veiled criticism of the local social consensus in favor of separate Catholic schools and state-run schools used chiefly by the Protestant majority, calling this part of the problem.
Rush-hour Belfast traffic was snarled as Obama and his family arrived in central Belfast for the speech.
Northern Ireland’s police stepped up security dramatically Monday ahead of the leaders’ arrival. Four-member units in body armor and armed with handguns and submachine guns parked armored cars on every intersection and side street in this rural market town of barely 15,000 residents.
Officers on foot patrol prodded hedgerows and the front gardens of brick rowhouses for potential explosive devices, but found nothing suspicious. Such precautions reflected the continued low-level activity of Irish Republican Army splinter groups that rejected the 2005 decision of most IRA members to formally abandon their campaign to force Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland.
More than 3,500 officers from Britain have been imported to double the security detail, and British Army engineers have helped to erect a daunting perimeter of steel fences and coiled razor wire for miles (kilometers) around the resort’s lone road entrance.
Air space over much of Northern Ireland is being restricted to summit traffic for the duration of the summit, which concludes Tuesday. And the water around the resort’s peninsula has been similarly closed to civilians, with police patrolling by boat, although the public is still free to fish from shore.
Northern Ireland’s riot-savvy police are keeping massive mobile water-cannon vehicles in reserve, lest hard-left protesters make any serious bid to breach the security fence.
However the police commander of G-8 security, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay, says he expects peace to reign when socialist and anti-globalization protesters march Monday night from central Enniskillen to the fence.
Finlay said while officers had trained to manage crowds of more than 10,000 protesters, this was unlikely to materialize Monday, with just 2,000 expected and few anti-G-8 activists traveling from continental Europe for the occasion.
As the protesters march, G-8 leaders are due to hold a working dinner where foreign policy issues – especially the increasingly opposed positions of the United States and Russia over Syria’s civil war – will be on the menu.
Obama was expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before that dinner. Obama last week announced that the United States would begin arming rebel groups trying to oust the Russian-backed government of Bashar al-Assad.
Cameron said he also hoped to achieve agreement that no G-8 member should pay ransoms to secure the release of hostages in North Africa, where western and Asian workers are top targets for kidnappers.