Northern Ireland news

On a good day you can see Scotland from Larne - this was not a good day

PSNI officers patrol Larne port in Co. Antrim this morning after local authority workers were withdrawn from duty at the facility following threats. Picture by Stephen Davison

ON a good day you can see Scotland from Larne - this was not a good day.

As uncertainty yesterday swirled around the future mechanisms of this portal in the new Irish Sea border, the horizon was obscured by a heavy bank of dove grey rain clouds and insistent mizzle.

The weather could best be described as `dreich', a Scots word familiar to inhabitants who are just 25 miles across the North Channel from their neighbours in Scotland - a proximity which is said to be a defining influence on Larne's sense of identity.

The harbour town appeared almost a place apart as the tyre-churned slush of the A8 carriageway, threaded between bright rolling snow-crusted hills, gave way to rain-streaked tarmac, dark skies and utilitarian urban landscape.

Like most of Northern Ireland's conurbations, the streets were largely empty of people due to the enforced Covid-19 lockdown's closure of all but essential shops. Even a carpark proclaiming itself a `Vaccination Centre' was eerily empty.

At the port, PSNI patrols now departed, a P&O passenger ferry - coincidentally called the European Causeway - was preparing to depart, dark grey plumes from its funnel mingling with the low clouds.

Despite a newly illegally-erected notice proclaiming `Ulster is British No Internal UK Borders', the only flag fluttering in the icy breeze coming off the Irish Sea was a tattered RNLI standard outside the Larne Lifeboat Station.

In another part of the port, freight rolled off their ferries as usual, unbuffeted by the political storm raging in the background.

Before long, the town's mayor emerged into this gloomy arena to talk to a hopeful phalanx of waiting journalists.

Fresh-faced DUP councillor Peter Johnston was helpfully wearing his gold chain of office, presumably to avoid being mistaken for an undergraduate stranded back home by post-Christmas travel restrictions.

He provided an update on the "regrettable situation" which had led the council to take a "cross-party" decision to withdraw all staff from Larne Port for their own safety.

Afterwards, Mr Johnston stressed that even before the implementation of Brexit with its contentious Northern Ireland Protocol it had been clear the situation at Larne would be "problematic".

Citing Boris Johnson's repeated overtures about a bridge between Larne and Scotland, he said the strong relationship between the two and the town's position as a "gateway to the mainland" means the British Prime Minister will have to "show he means what he has said about frictionless trade".

"If he was to visit Larne today I would ask him to keep his promises," the mayor said.

"It poses significant problems for our local community."

Less than a mile away at mini outdoor shopping estate on the way into town, his constituents seemed oblivious to the apparently perilous circumstances they now found themselves in.

Checking their receipts as they exited German supermarket chain Lidl, shoppers' reaction to being asked about their concerns over the new sea border ranged from bafflement - "I don't know anything about that", "That's the first I heard of it" - to disinterest - "It doesn't really bother me".

Those leaving B&M - the only other shop still open in the complex - were similarly lacking in alarm, with blank incomprehension at the notion that they had been cut off from their spiritual and ancestral Sisterland.

"Oh yes, I think I heard something about it on the news this morning, but I didn't really take it in," one woman said apologetically.

"I don't even know what you're talking about," her daughter said with a shrug.

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