Unmanned surveillance drones will assist an 8,000-strong police force in Northern Ireland during this summer's G8 summit.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)'s oversight body – the Northern Ireland Policing Board – yesterday gave approval for the purchase and use of three remote controlled aerial camera devices to help commanders overseeing the two-day meeting of the world's most powerful political leaders at the lakeside Lough Erne Golf Resort in County Fermanagh.
The security operation has been described as the biggest the region has ever witnessed with 4,500 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers and 3,500 officers from other UK providing security at the height of the event in mid-June, and Irish police deploying their own resources at locations south of the border.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay outlined details of the security planning at the Policing Board's monthly meeting in Belfast saying the drone technology – known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – would be a useful tool.
"They give us the opportunity to beam back pictures to enable police commanders to be able to see what's going on on the ground," he said.
"A bit like the helicopter does at the moment but (it) allows us to use it in a different way; in different weather conditions when the helicopter could maybe not operate, and slightly closer to various places; and it doesn't cause the same disturbance with sound and noise."
The devices will be retained by the PSNI for use in other operations when the G8 is over, such as missing person searches and public order incidents, but Finlay conceded some may have misgivings about the technology.
"I can understand that people would have a little bit of scepticism about this," he said.
"But this is just a variation of what we do with the helicopters that have been around for years and we use routinely.
"This is a different way of delivering that, it is a more cost effective way of delivering that, it's a quieter way of delivering that and it helps us to ensure that we can be flexible."
Policing Board members have approved use of the drones for an initial one year period, at which point their effectiveness will be reviewed, but Sinn Fein board member Gerry Kelly expressed some reservations about the devices.
"This is quite experimental, we need to make sure that it doesn't affect privacy," he said.
"People will be worried about this, it should be said that there will be many people who will be worried about this. So it is a testing period for it."
However, Democratic Unionist member Robin Newton welcomed the introduction of the drones.
"It is essential that the police embrace the use of new technologies in order to allow them to carry out their duties," he said.
Board chairman Brian Rea said: "In endorsing the proposal, Board members have sought particular clarifications and assurances around the regulation, scrutiny and oversight of the operation of these systems."