POLICING Lough Erne for the G8 is a ‘significant’ operation and anyone that breaches the restriction zone in place will be held accountable according to PSNI Superintendent Alywin Barton.
As part of the security effort specialist police boats crews that patrolled the waterways around the London Olympics have been deployed to the Lough during June.
Marine teams that ensured the safety of the Thames and sailing venues at Weymouth and Portland on England’s south coast are already on the waters of Lough Erne, with further high speed boats on the way.
Speaking to the Herald Mr Barton explained a bit more about the operation.
“Suffice to say it is significant, we don’t have a sufficient fleet within the PSNI to cover all the patrolled environment so as part of the mutual aid we have support coming in from other police services and constabularies, including the Dorset Constabulary, and the Ministry of Defence police, they are providing both boats and also coxswains to staff those boats.
He continued: “There’s not a terrible pile of difference between the boats being used, the common denominator are RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats). The average speed of these boats would be around 35 knots and some of the other boats would be significantly faster. They have the capacity of what we anticipate as being the requirement of the operation.”
The restriction zone in place accounts for 10% of the waterway from the Lough gates at Portora Royal School on the outskirts of Enniskillen northwards to Ross Point near Blaney and Mr Barton asks that people respect it.
“My appeal would be respect the restriction zone, it is legally enforceable and if you breach it you will be prosecuted.”
The restriction boundary that’s across the waterway will be policed 24/7 by the boat patrols and there will also be patrolling within that in the possible event of people entering the shore line and breaching the boundary.
With regard to the threat not only of protesters, but dissidents, Mr Barton explained they are planning for every eventuality.
“We have the trained officers and the skills and tactics to stop boats, remove people from boats and in doing so this presents a risk that either the officers or the people in question get injured and we want to avoid that where possible.”
Part of the PSNI preparations involved a familiarisation process where officers patrolling Lough Erne showed other officers from different branches the geography,the atmosphere and what it’s like to engage with the local community.
“In doing so they have been engaging with the cruisers that have been hired from the tourist community giving them a welcome to Fermanagh and giving them reassurance that there is patrolling in the area, so they should feel comforted and safe.”
Mr Barton does not believe that tourism will be unduly affected and if the weather keeps up expects visitors to take away fond memories of Fermanagh
“If there’s weather like this during the G8 Summit and the world’s media carry these images I think it certainly sends out a really good message about what Fermanagh potentially has to offer and those that we have coming to the county, whether they’re coming as media, as police officers to support the operation, part of the delegation or as campaigners or protesters, they will all have a chance to see what Fermanagh has to offer.”
Patrols are steadily increasing on the Lough at present, with numbers to be at their peak not only during the two days of the Summit on June 17 and 18, but also the weekend beforehand.