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Column: The G8 summit could have huge economic benefits for Ireland – if it goes well

Using the summit as an opportunity to vent frustrations with protests could be damaging and will only distract the international media from the many positives of Ireland’s recovery, writes Samuel Brazys.

Samuel Brazys

The 39th G8 summit will be held at Lough Erne in Enniskillen on the 17–18 June.

THE 39TH ANNUAL summit of the Group of Eight (G8) may provide a much-needed boost for the local economy as it makes its Irish debut at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, just outside Enniskillen, Fermanagh. However, should the discussion and debate surrounding the summit degenerate into mindless platitudes and violence, where a potential feather in the Irish cap would be turned into an international black eye.

The G8 (then G7) was born in the mid-1970s as a forum to discuss pressing economic issues of the day: namely the collapse of the Gold Standard, the Oil Crisis and continuing economic stagnation. Rather than a formal organisation, the G8 was designed as an informal setting where the leaders of the advanced economies could discuss policy options and coordination face-to-face. During the 1980s the G8 was probably best known for its role as a forum in helping to manage an orderly depreciation of the US Dollar.

Group of eight

The 1990s saw the G8 work to coordinate the transition of former Soviet-Bloc countries, culminating with the admission of Russia to the group in 1998. The September 11 attacks provided a new raison d’etre, but division amongst the members over how to address the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has led the group to focus on development coordination and, since 2008, the global financial crisis.

While the G8 remains an important gathering of major world leaders, it is rapidly losing its significance to the Group of Twenty (G20), which in addition to the G8 members also includes the other major world powers including China, Brazil and India.  As the G20 is now a far more representative body of the world’s economic powerhouses, the G8 has become somewhat obsolete as a forum for global economic management. As a result, it has been suggested by this year’s host, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, that the G8 refocus its ambition and address other global challenges including food security, nutrition and sexual violence in armed conflict.

Economic boost or petulant protest?

A study by researchers at the University of Toronto notes that the direct and indirect benefits of hosting recent G8 summits have been in the range of hundreds of millions of euros. In fact the most recent UK summit, at Gleneagles in 2005, was estimated to have generated $1.3 billion USD in overall economic benefit. Direct benefits include local infrastructure upgrades, increased local expenditure on public sector services and increased revenues for local businesses as visitors shop and spend.

The indirect benefits include enhanced visibility and marketing for the host locality. Despite the fading importance of the G8, this summer’s summit will still garner significant international attention which come June will have people around the world thinking about Ireland.

Whether this international impression is positive or negative, however, largely depends on how the summit comes off.  Starting after the infamous ‘Battle of Seattle’ at the World Summit Trade Organisation’s (WTO) ministerial meeting in 1999, nearly every high-level gathering of political-economic leaders has been met by significant civil protest. While the protests are fuelled by legitimate grievances over the negative social, environmental or cultural consequences of globalisation, they have often been marked by pedantic and/or simplistic critiques and occasionally marred by destruction, violence and even fatalities.

A springboard in Ireland’s road to recovery

Using the summit as an opportunity to vent frustrations over a wide range of issues that are only tangentially related to the G8 agenda – Irish or European austerity, emigration, capitalism, global conflicts or climate change – will only distract international media from the many positives of Ireland’s recovery – its return to growth and the markets; its attractiveness as an investment destination due to its skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, favourable corporate regulation and its excellence as a destination for tourism and corporate retreats.

A summit marked by directionless protest and violence will detract much from what Ireland hopes to accomplish in its ‘Gathering’ year.  A summit characterised by intelligent and respectful debate, great hospitality, and good craic will serve as an additional springboard in Ireland’s road to recovery.

Samuel Brazys is lecturer of International Relations at the University College Dublin.

Read: 9 reasons why Twitter believes Fermanagh is perfect for G8>

Read: Britain to use chairmanship of G8 to focus on terror threat>

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Samuel Brazys

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