Northern Ireland Town Fakes Prosperity for G8 Summit

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Marco Werman: I do it. You do it. We all do it, I hope, especially if I'm coming to your house. We do it when we have special guests. Fresh towels in the bathroom, give the counters a wipe, maybe even hide our dirty laundry in the closet. Well, the town of Enniskillen, in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland is sprucing up for some very special guests: President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to name just three. In a little over two weeks they and other leaders will gather for a G8 summit at a golf resort in Enniskillen. And as the date approaches the cleanup is moving into high gear. It includes new coats of paint on houses, tidying up lawns, and putting up fake storefronts on shuttered businesses. Irish Times reporter Dan Keenan visited Enniskillen and saw the cleanup process. Describe these fake buildings, first of all. What do they look like?

Dan Keenan: These are basically empty shops that are being now made to look as if they are thriving businesses, and they've done that in a very clever fashion indeed.

Werman: How do they do it?

Keenan: What they've done is they have filled the shop front window with a picture of what was the business before it went bankrupt or closed. In other words, grocery shops, butcher shops, pharmacies, you name it, they have placed large photographs in the windows that if you were driving past and glanced out the window, it would look as if this was a thriving business. It's an attempt really by the local authority to make the place look as positive as possible for the visiting G8 leaders and their entourages, and it's really tried to put a mask on a recession that has really hit this part of Ireland really very badly indeed.

Werman: So it's kind of like a trompe l'oeil, and I saw a picture in one newspaper. I'm a little confused because the door looked open.

Keenan: Yeah, it looks as if the door is open and inside you can see a well-stocked shop. It's nothing of the sort. That door has been locked shut for well over a year because that particular business went bust this time last year, and that is an image to make it look as if everything is normal in the town and in the county, but unfortunately it's not. The County of Fermanagh has suffered terribly as a result of the credit crisis and the resulting recession.

Werman: How are the citizens of Enniskillen reacting to this? It's kind of, not very funny, is it?

Keenan: It's not funny. We're inclined to take a very light-hearted look upon it but the residents of this part of the world are looking upon the arrival of the G8 positively because at the end of the day, it's not often you have the eight wealthiest and most powerful leaders on Earth visiting your part of the world. But on the other hand, they are a little bit skeptical of really very shallow attempts like this to make the place look better than it actually is. They would rather that it was an honest attempt to promote Fermanagh in its most positive light and really they would prefer if these problems were not masked in the way that they are.

Werman: Where is the money coming from for all these very accurate-looking photographs of meat and other things for sale?

Keenan: This is one big initiative really stemming from the Foreign Office in London. This is David Cameron's gig. It's his invitation, it's his decision to host the G8 in County Fermanagh, which is, don't forget, part of the United Kingdom. It's also on the island of Ireland, it's in Northern Ireland, but he will be the hosting head of government and it's his say so. Much of the money that has been spent in and around the host town of Enniskillen, about more than Ã? £300,000 worth, that's getting on from half a million dollars, the bulk of the cash and certainly the driving force behind the plans to tidy up the place, that's all coming from London.

Werman: Dan, you and I are talking about these fake storefronts, other news outlets are talking about it. Presumably the leaders in their limos will know that that butcher shop they see on their drive to the resort is not real. Do you think that some Irish, some people in Enniskillen, are hoping that the leaders realize that it's fake, and will understand just how bad things have gotten there?

Keenan: The fact that it's made my newspaper and it's made the newspapers across the Atlantic, and of course if you look on the Twitter-sphere, it's everywhere at this stage, so they can do what they like but whenever people get talking about an initiative such as this, then the truth will come out, and that's what's happening.

Werman: Irish Times reporter Dan Keenan speaking with us from Dublin. Thank you, Dan.

Keenan: Thank you.