The visiting world leaders have not ignored the symbolic significance of the meeting's setting. On Monday, in a speech delivered at Belfast's Waterfront Hall, Obama hailed Northern Ireland's peace process as a "blueprint" for conflicts around the world. The U.S. president acknowledged that tensions remain between nationalists and unionists, particularly in deprived parts of the country. "The terms of peace may be negotiated by political leaders, but the fate of peace is up to each of us," he said.
Peace -- and security -- have dominated discussions in Northern Ireland ahead of the G8, largely drowning out policy concerns. "From the very beginning, the G8 was treated like we had got the Oscars. Visiting politicians have been treated like celebrities, and the narrative has all been about how do we protect them," said Niall Bakewell, Northern Ireland activism coordinator with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. Dr Jonny Byrne, a lecturer in the school of criminology, politics, and social policy at the University of Ulster, agreed, noting that "the security around the G8 and subsequent policing of the protests has drowned out the real issues under discussion in terms of tax and Syria."
The days ahead should provide an opportunity for such debates, with indications that both Syria and tax evasion will feature prominently at this year's summit. One issue, with both local and global implications, that campaigners had been hoping to put on the public agenda ahead of the G8 is fracking. Fermanagh, where the summit is being held, has emerged as the battleground between opponents and supporters of the controversial mining technique in Ireland.
On Saturday, Bakewell and other environmentalists walked behind a purpose-built model of a fracking drill hole. While attempts to frack elsewhere on the island have largely come to standstill, Australian exploration company Tamboran Resources has a license to drill for gas in Fermanagh, just a few miles from where the summit is taking place. Tamboran is expected to start fracking operations there next year, with many fearful that the anticipated 1800 well bores could ruin the picturesque county.
The Northern Irish government has regularly cited tourism as a major argument in favor of hosting the G8 summit. Earlier this month, North Ireland's minister for enterprise, trade and investment, Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party, told students in Enniskillen that "this historic event will be a catalyst in the ongoing development of Fermanagh as an immensely attractive and high quality destination to visit in Northern Ireland." With unemployment above the British average and vacancy rates in shops among the highest in the country, the region needs any boost it can get. But few seem so sure of the summit's tourist potential. "Who books their holidays based on where the G8 was?" asked Bakewell. "Nobody, that's who."
This week may be unlikely to provide a significant economic boost to Northern Ireland, but its political leaders will hope to bask in the afterglow of an orderly, peaceful event long after the G8 wagons leave town -- so long as the locals cooperate.