Northern Ireland news

Daera port staff back doing Brexit checks

PORT staff are to resume Brexit checks today following the PSNI's insistence there is no evidence of a credible threat to their safety.

The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said its decision is based on a threat assessment from the PSNI and its own internal risk assessment.

Staff had been withdrawn last week after Mid and East Antrim Borough Council raised concerns of "menacing behaviour" being aimed at workers.

Threatening graffiti expressing opposition to a so-called Irish Sea border had appeared in the Larne area.

Former Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots ordered the suspension of checks shortly before stepping down from the role to receive medical treatment last week. His successor Gordon Lyons maintained the position.

Belfast staff were also removed, followed a short time later by EU officials.

However, three trade unions yesterday demanded an apology from the DUP mayor of Mid and East Antrim council for linking them to the withdrawal of staff from Larne.

Nipsa, Unite and GMB are threatening to `suspend industrial relations' with the council after Peter Johnston claimed "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".

They said they are "extremely disappointed that management have failed to recognise the seriousness of this incident and the likely impact it will have on industrial relations".

Police have said there was no evidence that loyalist paramilitary groups are behind threatening graffiti or that worker's car registrations had been recorded.

More than a dozen port staff employed by the council had already returned to work before yesterday's decision from Daera.

SDLP Brexit spokesman Matthew O'Toole said he has written to the council's chief executive and Daera minister Gordon Lyons seeking "a full explanation for the decision to withdraw staff".

He said the public need to know "the basis for their own assessments which diverge significantly from those provided by the police", with "a clear disconnect" between them.

"Reports that the Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Council suggested the UDA was behind threats in Larne, for example, are totally contradicted by the assessment provided by the PSNI.

"In those circumstances, we need to know how that position was arrived at and where the evidence for the claim came from.

"We also need to understand why the minister for agriculture decided that the PSNI did not have `a full understanding of the risk' against staff in Belfast.

"We cannot be in a position where ministers can simply reject security assessments because it doesn't fit their narrative."

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan welcomed the move but said "serious questions" remain for the agriculture minister.

"The safe return of workers is a priority and their safety must be paramount," he said.

"While it is welcome that workers will be back in post, there are still serious questions to be answered by the minister for ariculture around how and why the staff were withdrawn in the first place and who made the decision."

But TUV press officer Sammy Morrison insisted: "Daera - a DUP controlled department - should put an end to checks, not because of threats but, as an act of political will and principle."

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