Northern Ireland

G8: NI prison block 'set aside' in case of trouble

Maghaberry prison
Image caption The 108 cells could house up to 200 protesters if there is disorder at the G8 summit next month

An entire prison block at Maghaberry jail in Northern Ireland has been set aside to house protesters convicted of disorder at the G8 summit.

The former Lisanelly army barracks near Omagh will also be used as a temporary holding centre for those arrested.

Global leaders are due to meet for the two-day conference in County Fermanagh on 17 and 18 June amid heavy security.

The NI justice minister said: "It would be very foolish if we did not plan for the potential of significant trouble."

David Ford told BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster on Friday that no-one knew what extent of trouble there might be. Previous G8 summits have been marked by violent anti-capitalist protests.

He said Lisanelly barracks could hold up to 300 people. It is understood the block at Maghaberry Prison, County Antrim, has 108 cells and could accommodate up to 200 prisoners.

Mr Ford said in order to deal with an influx of those arrested, the department was changing the law to allow a wider range of court venues. At the moment, county court offences are normally prosecuted in the division where an offence occurs.

But by changing the law for three weeks, other courts can now be used. Dungannon in County Tyrone will be a primary court location for summit-related court appearances.

There will be specific G8 courts in Antrim, Belfast and Craigavon. This avoids a situation where the county court in Fermanagh becomes "choked" with potential G8 trouble-related cases.

"There has been incredibly good advance planning," Mr Ford said.

"Good work has been done and, given the short time, we have seen constructive work around that."

He said that an extra 3,600 police officers were being brought into Northern Ireland to support the 7,000 PSNI officers who will be on normal duty.

He also acknowledged the strong cross border element of support from the Republic of Ireland.

No additional costs

The justice minister confirmed that he had been given an assurance that no additional costs arising from the summit would fall to Northern Ireland government funds.

The vast majority of protests are expected to be peaceful. Police have said in the past that they believed the numbers intent on causing disorder would be very small.

However, there have been violent scenes at G8 summits in the past caused by radical anti-capitalist groups.

Thousands of people are expected to join peaceful protests supporting the anti-hunger Enough Food For Everyone campaign which has been organised by groups like Oxfam and Trocaire. About 15,000 people are expected to attend a music festival in Botanic Gardens that is just one of a series of events planned.

One of the organisers, Dan Scofield, said it was important to differentiate between those going to this event and protesters intent on causing violence.

"We 100% want to distance ourselves from any violent protests. We are looking at a family friendly event for people to have their voices heard," he said.

"We are a positive campaign and see this as a platform to get our voices heard, but we will be distancing ourselves from any violent protest."

BBC NI reporter Kevin Magee said: "My understanding is that at least two marches are planned for Enniskillen on Monday 17 June - the first day of the summit.

"One is being organised by Unite the Union, the other by People before Profit, and they will be joined by anti-fracking groups and others.

"The police have vowed that they intend to keep Enniskillen open for the duration of the summit but the Loughshore Road leading to the Lough Erne resort will be closed for two weeks before and two weeks after the event, while a 6 km fence is erected and then taken down.

"A seven-mile stretch of lower Lough Erne will also be locked down.

"So, at this stage, and until more precise information is released, I think a lot of local people are anticipating considerable disruption."

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