G8 summit: President Obama to urge politicians to quicken pace of progress in peace process as Northern Ireland braces for protests

 

President Obama will tomorrow urge Northern Ireland politicians to quicken the pace of progress in the peace process, delivering the pointed message that he regards it as incomplete and requiring greater effort.

He will use his visit to Northern Ireland for the G8 summit to urge locals to devote more effort to charting a course for a shared future for unionists and nationalists.

Tomorrow morning he will address a large audience of young people in Belfast before travelling to Fermanagh for the G8. He is also to meet unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein deputy First Minister.

He is expected to praise them and other political figures for their achievement in maintaining a cross-community administration. But he is also to urge them to consolidate gains by working harder on community relations.

President Obama's arrival in Belfast will take place following an almost eerie absence of disruptive protests against the G8. So far there has been no sign of protesters intent on causing trouble.

A march and rally in Belfast on Saturday, which was entirely peaceful, attracted only around 2,000 people who were monitored by a large fleet of armoured police vehicles.

Police say they believe many militant activists have been deterred by the fact that that some activists have chosen to go to Turkey rather than Northern Ireland. The authorities have made a deliberate point of emphasising how tight a security blanket has been put in place, with thousands of extra police drafted in.

One of many security signs in recent days has been the sight, and thunderous roar, of a fleet of eight enormous US military helicopters cruising in formation over Belfast and Fermanagh.

It will however come as a major surprise if no street protests occur during the two-day summit.

Barack Obama's speech, which has been closely coordinated with Downing Street, is seen as reinforcing David Cameron's arguments that more needs to be done to improve harmony and integration in Northern Ireland.

When the prime minister last week announced an economic package he made a call for the building of "a genuinely shared society."

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, who have often visited the US in recent years in an attempt to attract jobs and investment, will be keen to defend their record.

They will also be keen to make political use of the President's sentiments, arguing that more harmonious relations depend partly on economic improvement. They are well aware that President Obama is in a position to promote investment.

The US is already credited with playing a major role in the peace process, especially through the sustained interest of his predecessor Bill Clinton.

The American view is that although progress has been inspiring, the process requires to be consolidated, and this is an appropriate moment for all parties to rededicate themselves to healing past divisions and working towards a shared future.

In Washington an official spokesman has said that one of a number of ideas under consideration is the possible appointment of a special US envoy, saying the President will consult local politicians on this while in Belfast.

The official added that the US was looking at ways of supporting an investment conference to be held in October.

It is known that the US and other countries regard the peace process as one of the successes of conflict resolution during recent decades. At the same time disruptive marching confrontations, the flaring of street protests and the continuing existence of peacelines between Protestant and Catholic districts are viewed as constant reminders that division still run deep.

Local parties struggled for years to formulate an agreed strategy to address divisive issues. A document which was produced earlier this year was criticised as "low in ambition and weak in terms of detail."

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