G8 Summit 2013: To Impress the G8, Ireland Is Showing Off Businesses That Don't Exist


The comparisons are easy to make.

The erection of awnings on Detroit’s recently abandoned Statler-Hilton hotel in advance of the 1980 Republican National Convention. The Republicans won the election, but the city continued to decline, the awnings weathered badly, and the hotel was eventually demolished. 

It also could remind one, particularly a New Yorker, of 3 Columbus Circle, a building once hailed as a modern masterpiece. But by the 2000s, it was considered outdated and anachronistic, and despite much protest, reclad in banal glass.

Or perhaps it is a Potemkin village, one of the false settlements erected by the lover of Russian Empress Catherine the Great to disguise his ineptitude at governing of the Ukraine. Indeed, one could torture the metaphor to be taken as resembling the relationship between Northern Ireland and Whitehall, or, had it been in southern Ireland, the relationship between the country and its supporters in other parts of the world: eager to please, but not eager enough to change its ways.

But perhaps it is none of those. What it is, literally speaking, is the efforts of local authorities in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland to spruce up their blighted towns by pasting over derelict storefronts with images of thriving businesses in preparation for the G8 summit in a few weeks’ time.  Paying £300,000 ($456,800) for sprucing up over 100 “eye-sores,” the effort is meant to disguise the dire economic straits prevalent throughout the whole of Ireland to the world media.

Obviously, the fact the whole matter is being discussed means the strategy is not working. But even if it were, it merely hides the deeper malaise that residents have been plagued with for over a half-decade now. Fermanagh, surrounded on three sides by the Republic of Ireland, benefited greatly from the “Celtic tiger” economy of the 1990s and 2000s up until the financial-sector collapse in the latter half of the past decade. Similarly, it has been strongly affected by the downturn.

Of course, the whole affair makes one want to scream at the G8 conference organizers, "Why there?" Why situate such a prominent conference in a blighted area? Surely the area of Metropolitan London, which has markedly outperformed the British economy as a whole, would avert such potential embarrassments? Furthermore, Northern Ireland runs particular risk of terror attacks as part of the un-ending sectarian tension there. Both Catholic Nationalist groups and Protestant Unionist groups have either threatened violence or provoked fears of it, particularly as the conference takes place during the Protestant “marching season”. Indeed, a bomb was already been set off in the vicinity of the hotel in March.

It would seem, then, that hosting the conference in such a troubled area would be a statement of confidence — that Northern Ireland's problems were not insurmountable, that they could be overcome, and it was worth showing the world that fact. But the facts, it seems, do not match up to the vision.