While the world’s leaders gathered for the G8 summit, Ray Sanderson, visited the Lough Erne Resort for a face-to-face interview with Prime Minister David Cameron…
Many see Lough Erne as an inspiring place. Would you agree with that?
It is inspiring an inspiring place and I’m delighted that I’m going to be taking President Obama to a local school later on.
It’s inspiring, not only because of the beauty of this area and the talent of the people, but also inspiring because of what happened and because of the courage people showed.
So to me this is a very exciting moment and exciting couple of days because you only get to chair the G8 once every eight years, so it’s your choice what to put at the top of the agenda and your choice where to come. This was very much my choice to come to Northern Ireland to show people around the world what Northern Ireland is and its potential. This for me is the realisation and it is something I have been planning for a long time and it is exciting to be doing it.
Take us through the process of how you arrived at Northern Ireland, Fermanagh and Enniskillen.
My team drew up a short list of places. I said right from the start that I’m really interested in the idea of holding this in Northern Ireland.
I always enjoyed my visits to Northern Ireland and I have a great love of the countryside and the people here and I think we should always take every opportunity to talk up the potential of Northern Ireland. So I put it on the map for one of the choices and then when we looked at the potential choices and looked at here Lough Erne, it looked like a great place to come.
I don’t know if leaders normally do this, but I insisted on coming out and having a look for myself, so I came here in November and there had just been a fire in the hotel right here. It made me a little bit nervous.
But as soon as I saw it I saw the potential and thought this is going to be fantastic. It’s a great venue, it’s a beautiful part of the country. It’s a part of Northern Ireland that a lot of people don’t know that well and obviously there were some questions and some uncertainties and people said it is a long way to get people to go. Shouldn’t it be in a capital city or what about all the issues of security, but I just thought this was the right place to come and so far I’m very pleased.
Shared education has been a success story in Fermanagh. What is you view on that?
I’m a big supporter of shared education. Obviously we have to understand all the pressures and difficulties and traditions in education, but the more we can see people in Northern Ireland coming to gather in a shared future, the better.
So, shared education is a very positive thing and President Obama was talking about that today in Belfast, but also what we agreed on Friday with the first minister and deputy first minister, which is about shared campuses, so even where we can’t have shared schools we can at least have campuses where we have schools coming together and children can grow up and learn together.
How do you feel the G8 being here can help the people of this area and the people of Northern Ireland?
There is a mechanical way of giving a boost to businesses in Northern Ireland. We tried to use local businesses, local suppliers and local artists and craftsmen and all the rest of it, but the thing that is difficult to put a price on is just the message that Northern Ireland is open for business.
I think it would have been unthinkable to have a G8 or a conference like this in Northern Ireland 20 years ago, so I think there is a priceless message about Northern Ireland open for business and then there is something else which is hard to put a price on. I was watching the television this morning and all over the world people are going to be seeing pictures of Prime Ministers and Presidents meeting here in Lough Erne in these extraordinary scenes of this beautiful landscape and you can’t really put a price on that sort of advertising.
Do you think the £60m it is costing to police the summit is excessive?
You always have to police for potential problems rather than just those that appear. Let me pay tribute to the PSNI who have grown up to be a fantastically capable organisation and they are doing a great job here for the G8.
There will always be protests around these international gatherings. Personally I find it quite frustrating when so much of the G8 agenda is actually about tackling poverty in the poorest parts of the world. So much the agenda is so positive. But nonetheless people have the right protest, they always will. It seems as if this time the protests are relatively muted, but it has only just started. As for the cost, the instruction to my team was that this must be less expensive than Gleneagles and it is.
With regard to long term legacies after the G8 what do you think may be left in the Enniskillen and Fermanagh area?
I hope what will be left is obviously a successful G8 and some of things we’re going to sign up to I hope will have a life well beyond this G8 and they will forever be associated with Enniskillen, with Lough Erne and with Fermanagh.
That is a legacy. I hope there will be a legacy of this great advertisement for Northern Ireland and in Fermanagh that the people will want to visit it for themselves and I think that is a good legacy to have.
What do you think your other leaders will make of our county?
I think first of all they will be struck by the beauty. People around the world I don’t think know that much about Northern Ireland if we’re frank.
They have obviously read about troubles and difficulties and the history of the past which we are all but I have always been struck that Northern Ireland’s beauty is massively under-rated and under-appreciated.
I hope the helicopters will take a nice tour around the lough, because it is a really staggeringly beautiful sight as you come in to land.
I think the second thing will be having as leaders, known about the troubles in Northern Ireland and think the fact that you fly over a part of the United Kingdom that is broadly at peace and there aren’t road blocks and there aren’t such a visible presence of security.
They will also see that this is a part of the United Kingdom with a very talented workforce with all the disadvantages it has had in the past, slipping away and they will see somewhere that is a great place to invest and I hope businesses will think about that too.
How do you intend to relax today and tomorrow?
I don’t think there will be much time for relaxing because it is an incredibly packed programme. As well as the G8 discussions I’m meeting the Japanese Prime Minister for the first time, so that is important.
I’ve got meetings with President Obama separately and also have a series of individual meetings with all the participants and then of course chairing the sessions, where I want to get the most our of this G8, so I don’t think there is going to be much time for relaxation, but maybe I’ll go for a run. I haven’t been to the gym yet, but I’m working on it.
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