Northern Ireland

Council withdraws Brexit staff from Larne port over fears for their safety linked to NI protocol

The graffiti in Larne warning port staff
The graffiti in Larne warning port staff

MORE than a dozen staff carrying out post-Brexit checks have been withdrawn from Larne port following an "upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour" linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Tensions are growing within loyalism over the protocol, which has created an Irish Sea border with introduction of checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Ian Paisley last night said he opposed any threats but claimed the protocol "was bound to end in tears" adding: "and here we have society’s structure falling apart".

The North Antrim politician blamed Tánaiste Leo Varadkar for stoking tensions, claiming that when he "distributed copies of border posts being blown up in Newry 30 years ago" to EU Commission members, "he demonstrated that violence and the threat of violence has a seat at the table".

Mid and East Antrim Council said around 12 environmental health and several senior council officers were among staff removed for safety reasons following an emergency meeting yesterday.

Further discussions are to be held this week.

Last month graffiti warning that "all border post staff are targets" was sprayed near Larne Harbour.

Mayor Peter Johnston said yesterday that trade unions had also raised "serious concerns around increasing suspicious activity such as apparent information gathering, including the taking of personal registration plates from their vehicles".

He highlighted 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’."

The DUP councillor said the graffiti and menacing behaviour had caused "extreme distress and worry to our staff". He said the council had no option but to withdraw staff and carry out a full risk assessment.

The move was unanimously agreed by all the party leaders on council yesterday.

Sinn Féin councillor James McKeown said staff will only return to the port when the council is satisfied it is safe.

"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," he said.

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said leaders had fallen short: "The language used and tone of the discussion relating to the Protocol has raised tensions and whipped up fear.

"It should be the role of all leaders to extract the poison from public dialogue, and I'm challenging everyone to do that."

Last night, the Royal Black Institution said the protocol had been "forced upon the people of Northern Ireland" and must be removed.

The PSNI said last week that discontent in loyalist communities is “growing” over the protocol.

Assistant chief constable Mark McEwan said police are prepared for potential loyalist protests once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.