NI Protocol: Council withdraws all staff from Larne Port due to ‘community tensions’

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is immediately withdrawing its staff from inspection duties at Larne Port over due to concerns over threats to their safety.

Monday, 1st February 2021, 10:21 pm

Graffiti has appeared in the area in recent weeks making threats in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol at Larne Port.

Mayor Peter Johnston said in a live stream tonight: “Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is immediately withdrawing its staff from inspection duties at Larne Port over concerns for their safety and welfare.

concerns for their safety and welfare.

Graffiti daubed on a wall in the harbour area of Larne.

“The move was unanimously agreed by the council’s group party leaders at an emergency meeting this afternoon and fully approved by council this evening.

“It follows an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks including the appearance of graffiti in the local area referencing increasing tensions around the Northern Ireland protocol and describing port staff as targets and it being ‘time for war’.

“Trade unions on behalf of council members of staff assisting with the checks at the port have raised serious concerns around increasing suspicious activity such as apparent information gathering, including the taking of personal registration plates from their vehicles.

“This has caused extreme distress and worry to our staff and we have no option but to withdraw them from their duties in order to fulfill our duty of care and carry out a full risk assessment with the PSNI, Food Standards Agency and DAERA.

“Tonight I will be writing to Minister [Edwin] Poots to let him know of this decision and we apologise for any disruption that this may cause. Council will provide further updates on the situation when it is appropriate to do so.”

The council later released a further statement.

Mayor Peter Johnston, said: “We have seen what I would describe as deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping of community tensions towards the NI Protocol, particularly in recent days.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff is always this Council’s number one priority and that is why the decision has been taken to withdraw them from their work at the Port with immediate effect until we have very real assurances and full confidence that they can go about their duties without fear, threat or concern for their wellbeing.”

Sinn Fein Group Party Leader on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor James McKeown, said: “Our staff will step away from this work and will only return we are totally satisfied it is safe and right for them to do so.

“There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.”

The Council had 12 Environmental Health Officers attached to the work at the Port until today’s decision, as well as a number of senior Council officers.

Council’s Chief Executive spoke with Daera Minister Edwin Poots to advise him of Council’s decision and further discussions are planned this week.

Council will provide further updates on the situation when it is appropriate to do so.

The DUP’s North Antrim MP Ian Paisley condemned the threats.

My thoughts are with the staff affected,” he said. “I condemn all threats to staff outrightly. Such tactics have no place in a democracy.

“This is the sad reality of those who imposed terms on Northern Ireland without the consent of the delicate community balance which exists here. The Protocol was bound to end in tears and here we have society’s structure falling apart.

“When Leo Varadkar shamefully distributed copies of border posts being blown up in Newry 30 years ago around EU Commission members, he demonstrated that violence and the threat of violence has a seat at the table.

“At the heart of progress in Northern Ireland has been cross community consent. Those who thought they could impose something against the will of every unionist are now reaping the seeds of division they have sown. The Protocol was bound to cause these problems given the triumphant approach by republicans and nationalists and the wilful ignorance that 50% of the population was opposed to the Protocol.

“It’s time for the Government to step up and invoke Article 16, set it aside and let’s get back to proper trade without restrictions.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “This is a serious situation; I am deeply saddened that dedicated public servants just trying to do their job are now caught in the middle of this mess.

“The Council has acted wisely to protect the safety of their staff. I condemn the threats outrightly. We live a democracy, and such threats should have no place in politics.

“I urge those behind the threats to withdraw them and I urge the Government to move swiftly to deal with the instability both to trade and to relationships which has been caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“With not a single Unionist Party in Northern Ireland supporting the NI Protocol, it is time for the Prime Minister to stand up for this part of the United Kingdom and invoke Article 16 to enable proper east-west relations.”

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