Fracking Furious in Fermanagh
by Richie Venton
County Fermanagh, in the south west of Northern Ireland, is where I was born and brought up.
Visiting my family there is always a tonic to the senses: the lush green rolling hills, the back roads bursting with birdsong, the stillness and glittering tranquility of Lough Erne.
|Stickers on a former butchers shop in Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, give the false impression of a thriving business!|
Of course the price is almost guaranteed and persistent rain: as the local saying goes, half the year Lough Erne is in Fermanagh, the other six months Fermanagh is in Lough Erne! And at many points in the agricultural cycle, you get used to a powerful aroma of the most natural of all fertilizers, spread by the farmers to enrich the grass! Not last week though! The all-too-rare glory of sunshine vastly enhanced the spectacular scenery, but instead of boosting the smell of manure, it increased the smell of fresh paint! Especially so in the county town of Enniskillen, where every street railing had a new black gloss to it; shop fronts boasted bright new colours; you could hardly turn a street corner without walking into painters up ladders or on cherrypickers. A family friend described in exasperation how he wanted to decorate his house but literally couldn't find a tin of paint for sale in any of the local shops!
Massive cosmetic cover-up
To say a full-blown cosmetic exercise has been launched would be a gross understatement: empty shops, idle work sites and derelict buildings are literally covered up with giant posters of idyllic Fermanagh scenery, in several villages and many approach roads.
The G8 invasion
Why? The 'masters of the universe' are coming to town!
David Cameron chose the luxurious Lough Erne Golf Resort hotel complex, on the scenic rural outskirts of Enniskillen, as the venue for this year's G8 summit of the leaders of eight of the capitalist world's biggest economies.
Lough Erne Resort, venue for G8
Local people are generally glad to see the town and parts of some surrounding villages getting a paint job. They welcome the intensive road resurfacing that has been conducted over recent months, especially on the main Belfast to Enniskillen A4 route.
An estimated £11m has been spent on road improvements, but mostly on the main routes that the G8 media circus might spot, not on rural roads most desperately in need of repair for those who live there.
The short burst of employment this has created is welcome in an area of chronic unemployment; a family friend, a skilled tradesman, has had to turn away painting and decorating work because he can't cope with the demand, whereas he'd previously had to drive a tanker for a living. An English company has been handed the £450,000 contract by Fermanagh district council to mount vinyl pictures on shop-front shutters! Behind the gloss
Lough Erne tranquility invaded by G8
But behind this gloss lurks a stark reality that will remain when the G8 caravan moves on, captured in one example: the luxurious Lough Erne Resort chosen to host the G8 exploiters' deliberations has until recently been put into administration, only temporarily re-opened for the G8 event, with workers taken back on... but on lower wages!
Most Fermanagh people aren't fooled by appearances, however pretty. In fact they are downright resentful at the hypocrisy of years of being ignored in their pleas for road improvements and investment in jobs and small independent businesses by the government - with pleas of poverty from the Stormont and Westminster regimes - now suddenly transformed into bottomless pots of gold to spruce up the place because eight capitalist heads of government and their entourage are descending on the county for a couple of days.
But the G8 invasion of Fermanagh involves more than paint, pretty posters and pothole repairs.
Lower Lough Erne
It includes an appalling extravaganza of taxpayers' money being splashed out on a 'security' operation that has many of the hallmarks of a police state, of an occupied, militarized zone.
Police boat patrol on Lough Erne
A massive ring of steel fencing round the Lough Erne Resort has cost over £4.2million. The Shore Road, that runs from Enniskillen past the venue, has been blocked off to general traffic from 1st to 26th June, with local residents having to show special passes to get home. This is part of a vast water and air exclusion zone - not just on 17-18th June when these imperialist lords land for their discussions on the carve-up of the world's resources and war plans, but for the entire period from 1st to 26th June.
School exams are being disrupted by the traffic exclusion zone, with students expected to get earlier buses on the days that heavily shape their futures.
Non-emergency outpatient services are being suspended when Cameron's international cronies come.
A massive police operation is already underway, several weeks before Cameron, Obama, Merkel, Putin et al descend on Fermanagh for two days. On a short journey you will encounter at least two or three police patrols, on foot, in cars, with random checkpoints, people frequently stopped and searched, squads of motorbike cops on the streets, boats with police patrols on the lough, and police helicopters violating the tranquility of the county.
Police dog handler checks car
CCTV cameras festoon every available lamppost or building. Already 730 police officers from England, Scotland and Wales have been trained to drive armoured Landrovers - a 'privilege' normally restricted to police in N Ireland - as part of an overall drafting in of 3,600 'mutual aid' police from Britain. Police armed with machine guns are patrolling the streets weeks before the G8, as are British soldiers. G8 masters of violence
The local media repeatedly pumps out the line they are being trained on 'how to deal with public disorder' - part of a massive propaganda hype about impending violence that is designed to demonise and demoralise the trade unionists, environmentalists, socialists, and human rights campaigners seeking to exercise their right to peaceful protest against the G8 jamboree.
Police training for G8
Water cannons are in position. Unmanned police drones, costing over £1million, have been bought to fly over and spy on people and protests. The prestigious Killyhelvin hotel - normally reliant on weddings, family outings and tourists - has been literally taken over for weeks by a massive media horde there to report of the G8, no doubt on the prowl for any incident of violence by protestors that they can exaggerate, but very little exposé of the bloodcurdling violence perpetrated by the G8 leaders and their system of ruthless exploitation of people and planet. By way of contrast, former British Army and RAF bases in Omagh and Enniskillen have been turned into 'custody facilities' for protesters - at a cost of £3.9million.
And the local council has declared itself unable to find a suitable camp site for protesters, whereas the bill for catering and cleaning alone at the G8 resort is £3million.
Government Ministers have coyly declined to answer questions about plans to shut down internet access and social media at the height of the G8 - in stark contrast to the Department of Environment's fast-tracking of seven temporary new telecoms masts in the G8 conference centre itself and the main police barracks. £50m police bill
The British army has arrived to give back-up to the police, and army helicopters will fly the G8 entourage to and from the Lough Erne Resort. The place is crawling with hundreds of secret service operatives. The Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) is spending an overall £50m in policing and so-called 'security'. That is an obscene squandering of public funds against the backdrop of vicious public service cuts, where the likes of my mother's home help service has been cut to the bone, and where charity volunteers collect on street corners and at stalls in the bigger Enniskillen supermarkets for life-saving services that are not rendered by the state.
Bear in mind this super-sized police and military operation is being conducted in an area where the biggest town, Enniskillen, has a population just under 15,000, which is roughly a quarter the population of the whole of Co Fermanagh.
Legacy of cuts and poverty
Much is being prattled about 'the G8 legacy' in Fermanagh. A crude reduction in people's civil rights is likely to be one actual legacy; they won't splash out on this monstrous 'security' exercise and then simply dismantle it.
Long term job creation it certainly will not bring. Two private security firms, including the notorious G4S, have been handed the contract for 650 staff for the G8 jamboree, but they don't even intend to recruit locally.
The local RNLI has just launched a public appeal for £60,000 to build a proper shelter for this vital, life saving service, run by volunteers; not for them the bottomless well of public funding afforded 8 men and women who dominate our lives with their economic and social policies. Another local public appeal has just raised £15,000 for defibrillators, after a near-tragedy. Youth unemployment is officially 24 per cent, with low-paid retail jobs one of the few outlets.
One of the most outrageous 'legacies' of the G8, if they have their way, will be fracking in Fermanagh. The Fermanagh G8 Not Welcome coalition that is marching through Enniskillen on 17June has made opposition to fracking a central theme.
In 2001, the G8 endorsed High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for shale gas, in support of the lobby of the oil and gas multinationals. Shattering rock, this releases gas, but also brings to the surface numerous toxins, such as benzene, lead, mercury and radioactive material. Fracking also contaminates water supplies along new fault lines in the rock, reaching into streams and lakes. As the lakelands of the north of Ireland, Fermanagh seems the last place on earth that fracking should be allowed. But the capitalists who lord it over us mere mortals couldn't give a frack about the well-being of Fermanagh - or anywhere else on the globe. The Belfast government has already granted permission to a company called Tamboran Resources to start work on two sites in Fermanagh, where they have plans for 60 'pads' - each a seven-acre site, concreted over, with heavy and noisy machinery, with air, water and noise pollution - a mere mile apart from one another.
Scientists warn that more than half the water will be severely contaminated, with no means of decontaminating it. And the unusually shallow shale layers in the area - about a quarter the depth in other parts of the world - makes fracking in Fermanagh especially dangerous. And it can't even be sold to the local population with the cynical offer of jobs in an unemployment blackspot: Tamboran initially promised 600 jobs north of the border plus 600 in the south, but have now reduced their pledge to 3 jobs per pad, a miserable total of 180. Aside from the issue of dangerous and environmentally destructive jobs, that's hardly compensation for the 5,000 local jobs in farming or the 1,000 tourism jobs that will be jeopardized by this monstrous plan to frack Fermanagh.
Socialism at home and abroad
The G8 summit epitomizes all that is worst about the capitalist world we live in.
Nauseating pomp and privilege for the powerful, alongside poverty, unemployment and outright hunger for the majority population. Food banks and charity collections for desperately needed services in the local community, alongside obscene gluttony, publicly funded, at this gathering of eight capitalist puppets.
Over 3 billion people on the planet living below $2 a day, whilst 358 billionaires and a couple of hundred multinationals have a grip on the world's wealth.
1.3 billion people subsisting on $1 a day, and somebody dying of hunger every 3.6 seconds.
Environmental destruction so that the giant energy corporations can make a fast buck.
And deployment of state forces, armed to the teeth, to block the right of peaceful protest to people genuinely committed to a decent life, a living wage, public services, peace, and protection of the planet from destruction for short-term profit. Capitalism means world starvation, poverty and war. Capitalism means the dictatorship of the rich, with the backup of armed forces prepared to deny the right to resist to the majority.
The G8 occupation of Fermanagh is a brutal reminder of the world we need to change, of the need for socialism in Ireland, Scotland and around the globe these creatures are meeting to carve up.
Join that fight now, before they lay waste to millions more people and the planet we share.