Security operations are under way ahead of a summit of the leaders of the world's most industrialised countries.
IHS Global Insight perspective
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) faces security risks from two directions at the upcoming summit of G8 leaders. PSNI officials have lowered the estimate of overseas anti-capitalist groups expected to turn up. However, dissident Irish republican groups represent a serious threat and paramilitaries are likely to try to capitalise on the international media exposure either by staging an attack or orchestrating street disorder.
Protests are likely to be smaller than at G8 summits in previous years. Even so, hosting the event poses a massive security and logistical challenge for Northern Ireland and will stretch police resources.
Organised mainstream protest marches are likely to pass off relatively peacefully. PSNI intelligence on local and international far-left and anti-globalisation movements is confident of containing the majority of attempts to cause disruption. Dissident Irish republicans will not target the G8 venue or police frontlines where protesters could be injured. A flare-up of sectarian disturbances is a more likely tactic than a direct terrorist attack.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron will host the international G8 summit in Northern Ireland on the 17-18 June. A high-security operation is underway across the province with 4,400 PSNI officers on active duty, assisted by an additional 3,600 personnel drafted from the UK mainland and 900 Irish police posted on the border. The two-day summit at the Lough Erne venue will be the focus of local political activism and anti-austerity protests. However, the G8 summit is sealed off and will not be disrupted in the event of anti-capitalist or republican protests.
Dissident republican threat
British and Irish security agencies are monitoring the activity of three republican groups, the New IRA organisation, Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) and the Continuity IRA. Of these the ONH is currently regarded as the most active, and the organisation with the highest operational capability. In March the PSNI foiled an attempted mortar attack on the New Barnsley police station in west Belfast (see United Kingdom - Ireland: 5 March 2013: Northern Irish police foil dissident bomb plot). Bomb disposal units defused a 60 kg car bomb on the Derrlin Road near Enniskillen in the same month – 16 miles south of Lough Erne. The ONH claimed responsibility for both attacks. An IED attack at the end of May targeted two PSNI officers after an emergency call brought out the police. The G8 event itself is not a likely target for dissidents and would cause enormous reputational harm if a direct attack was carried out. However, senior police representatives have issued several security warnings in recent months (see United Kingdom - Ireland: 27 February 2013: Police unions raise security concerns over Northern Ireland hosting G8 summit) indicating that dissident activity will not let up. Republican groups will attempt to intensify their attacks focusing on police stations, military bases, and security personnel during the G8 summit and in the weeks after. Anti-ceasefire republican groups may attempt to strike at British security forces (from mainland UK units), which would represent a significant coup and an easier target than striking on the UK mainland.
The fact that hardline republican communities are encouraging their young people to join anti-G8 demonstrations indicates that the event and areas in the vicinity of public protests are not a likely target. A few hundred republican activists may seek confrontation with the police in Belfast, Enniskillen, and Londonderry/Derry to attract media publicity. Belfast's Short Strand area and the Craigavon estate (a CIRA stronghold) are potential flashpoints.
The PSNI anticipates that "[terrorist] incidents will not be at, near or affecting any part of the G8". The main tactic of using hoax bomb warnings (as well as viable abandoned devices) in order to maximise security disruption is seen as more likely by security sources. Although there is a risk of car-bomb and mortar attacks targeting security personnel elsewhere in Northern Ireland, attacks on populated areas would be counter-productive. A serious danger exists of viable explosive devices being abandoned on a main road to avoid high security sweeps.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is organising a peaceful demonstration in Belfast city centre this Saturday (15 June). Organisers are expecting at least 15,000 people to attend. Street disorder at the Belfast rally is assessed as unlikely, although radical far-left groups will attempt to piggyback on the protest. A fringe element that breaks away from the main rally is manageable from a security perspective. A second planned march on 17 June organised by the UK's Unite trade union in Enniskillen will also attract large numbers of demonstrators. Protesters will face a series of checkpoints on the way to the G8 venue where isolated pockets of violence may occur. Police assessments indicate a hardcore of about 1,000 anti-capitalist and anarchist protesters from outside Northern Ireland are expected. These are expected to be joined by anti-austerity, left-wing, environmentalist, anti-fracking, and republican groups. Police resources are also directed at preventing an outbreak of loyalist rioting. In July Northern Ireland enters the height of the loyalist marching season.
There are no indications that the main loyalist groups will attempt to rekindle the flag protests, which caused massive disruption in December and January (see United Kingdom - Ireland: 9 January 2013: Flag protests in Northern Ireland set to continue, Dublin braces for loyalist march). However, an Ulster Defence League (UDL) rally at Belfast City Hall on 15 June is planned and could lead to sectarian clashes with the Eirigi republican group, a Sinn Féin splinter group.
Police officers in central London at an anti-G8 demonstration on 11 June 2013.
A no-fly zone has been imposed on the isolated Lough Erne venue, and there are heavy security patrols on the waterway and aerial drone surveillance is in effect. Strict flight restrictions will also be kept in place over the airspace of Belfast International Airport, Aldergrove Airport, and St. Angelo Airport (outside Enniskillen) for the duration of the summit. Commercial flights to and from Belfast International Airport will not be affected but light aircraft are prohibited. Roadside checkpoints in the area will be widespread. Localised travel disruption and significant delays in cross-border traffic are expected as buses carry anti-austerity protesters. The G8 will not be disrupted and Northern Ireland's businesses will remain open as usual during the two-day summit. However, there will be a heightened risk of vandalism to banks and multinational corporations along protest routes.
Co-operation on the border between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána (police) in Ireland is excellent. Ireland's defence minister Alan Shatter is deploying 900 officers to run eight temporary border checkpoints and mobile patrols. Units of the elite Army Ranger Wing, the Emergency Response Unit, and National Surveillance Unit have also been tasked with preventing dissident groups from carrying out attacks across the border. In that context, legislation has been approved giving police authorities the power to order telecom companies to shutdown mobile networks. As an emergency contingency measure police authorities in the Republic of Ireland could potentially impose a network blackout to prevent dissident republican paramilitaries from triggering car bombs. A peaceful counter-summit in Dublin is also planned, although disruption in the capital would be minimal. Small anti-G8 solidarity demonstrations are also forecast in other parts of the UK, most notably London.
Outlook and implications
After months of preparation the police strategy in recent weeks has turned to attempting to dissuade republican groups from launching attacks by deliberately advertising the very high-visibility security operation across the province. Anti-ceasefire dissident republican groups have a lower level of technical capability than their predecessors in the Provisional IRA, although the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers warned in June that the threat posed by republican paramilitary groups is still assessed as "severe". Northern Ireland's political power-sharing institutions are stable and have shown considerable resilience. The devolved government would be shaken by serious social disorder or a "spectacular" terrorist attack but would remain intact. The G8 summit is supported by Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness – representing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin (SF) party, respectively. Partly to appease anti-austerity protests and secure political support the UK government will unveil a new economic plan for Northern Ireland tomorrow (14 June), including long-awaited proposals for new enterprise zones.