It is hard to imagine a more fitting venue for the G8 meeting this year than the Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland. After all, just like some G8 countries, the hotel is extravagant, expensive and bankrupt.
The $55-million resort, the only 5-star hotel in Northern Ireland, opened with great fanfare in 2008. It is spread across 345 acres and located on a peninsula surrounded by lakes. There are two golf courses including one designed by golfing great Nick Faldo, as well as a golfing academy, activities like fishing and hunting, a pool and a Thai spa that features an “aroma steam room” and a “thermal suite.”
But the resort soon became a victim of the financial crisis and it was forced into bankruptcy in 2011 after amassing about $40-million in debt. It is now up for sale with an asking price of $15-million. It isn’t the first hotel to go up for sale after hosting the G8. In July 2010, the Deerhurst resort in Huntsville, Ont., was put up for sale one month after being the site of the G8. It went for about $26-million.
The Lough Erne hotel, roughly two hours from Belfast, is symbolic of the slow economy in Northern Ireland. The unemployment rate is 8.1 per cent, the highest in a decade and well above the national average. The jobless rate for 18 to 24-year-olds is far worse: 21 per cent and climbing. Housing prices are flat and the economy is not expected to grow at all this year, even though Britain as a whole is showing signs of turning around economically.
Its neighbour, the Republic of Ireland, isn’t doing much better. Unemployment in Ireland is 14 per cent and things are so bad economically there has been a mass exodus of young people, largely to Canada.
And while sectarian violence has largely dissipated in Northern Ireland – Lough Erne is not far from Enniskillen where an IRA bomb killed 11 people in 1987 – there have been flare ups recently. In December, unionist protesters went on a rampage for weeks over a decision by the Belfast city council, which is controlled by republicans, to stop flying the Union Jack over City Hall every day. There are also growing fears a republican group called the Real IRA is growing and becoming more violent.
Police aren’t taking any chances at the G8. The resort has been sealed off and roughly 8,000 police are on patrol, along with special unarmed drones.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has been eager to tout Northern Ireland, telling a group of foreign journalists last week that “10 years ago, 20 years ago, it would have been unthinkable to hold a G8 in Northern Ireland.”
“I’m really proud that we are taking the G8 there to showcase this extraordinary part of our country,” he added. “And I think we will be able to show the world this is a modern dynamic part of the United Kingdom.”
And with some luck, they may find a buyer for the host hotel.