Anne Donaghy - Mid and East Antrim Council Chief Executive Officer - Icy exchanges as council chief Anne Donaghy is grilled by MLAs over withdrawal of staff from Larne Port
There were icy exchanges on Thursday between Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Chief Executive Officer, Anne Donaghy, and some of the MLAs in the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs concerning the council's decision to temporarily withdraw staff from Larne Port earlier this year.
The staff were removed because of perceived threats issued against port employees carrying out new checks set out in the UK/EU withdrawal agreement, of which the Northern Ireland Protocol is part.
Ms. Donaghy and Mayor Peter Johnston (DUP) repeated several times how the decision to withdraw staff was unanimously approved by all elected council representatives on Monday February 1, 2021.
The PSNI, however, said on Tuesday February 2 that was "absolutely no information" to substantiate the threats.
Be that as it may, Ms. Donaghy, did not formally approve the return of staff to the port until she received a written threat assessment from the PSNI on Thursday February 4.
Ms. Donaghy and Mayor Johnston explained how many different variables were taken into consideration in the hours leading up to the official withdrawal of port staff.
CEO Donaghy rejected any suggestion that politics concerning the NI Protocol played a part in the decision to withdraw staff.
One explanation put forward by Ms. Donaghy to support the perceived threat at the time concerned an unnamed individual with links to drug dealing and criminal gangs.
Ms. Donaghy told the committee that she personally reported the information concerning this individual to the PSNI in the days before staff were formally withdrawn.
However, on Thursday April 15, acting Assistant Chief Constable, Bobby Singleton, told the same committee the PSNI did not receive any such report like the one set-out by Ms. Donaghy.
"I am not aware of any specific complaint or concern raised in respect of individual by any of those bodies to the PSNI during that period," said acting ACC, Bobby Singleton.
Committee member and DUP MLA for Newry and Armagh, William Irwin, described the committee's investigation as a "witch hunt" and heaped praise upon both CEO Donaghy and Mayor Johnston.
MLAs also raised concerns about a letter regarding the NI Protocol written by Ms. Donaghy to the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom government on Sunday January 31, 2021.
This letter was not included in the evidence pack provided to the committee ahead of today's meeting.
Ms. Donaghy claimed the letter was "not relevant" to the committee's investigation and said she sent it not in her capacity as the CEO of Mid and East Antrim council but rather as a Non-Executive Director of Solace, an organisation that helps businesses "reach your true potential", reads the official website.
SDLP MLA, Patsy McGlone, told Ms. Donaghy it was not within her power to determine what was and what was not relevant to the committee.
"With the greatest of respect, this committee will decide if it's relevant or not," said Mr. McGlone.
Mayor Johnston said the letter to the Cabinet Office did not influence the decision to withdraw staff and as a result was not included in the evidence pack.
The committee has now formally requested a copy of the letter.
The investigation continues.
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