Northern Ireland news

DUP MPs advised council chief to write to British government with protocol concerns before port staff were withdrawn

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim council Peter Johnston and chief executive Anne Donaghy
Connla Young

A COUNCIL chief executive was advised by three DUP MPs to write a letter to a British government department voicing concern about the Northern Ireland Protocol two days before staff were withdrawn from Brexit checks at Larne port.

Mid and East Antrim council chief executive Anne Donaghy says she was advised to pen the letter by DUP MPs Sammy Wilson, Ian Paisley and Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this year.

Both Mr Wilson and Mr Paisley are MPs in Ms Donaghy's council area while Mr Donaldson represents the Lagan Valley constituency.

Details of the letter emerged as Ms Donaghy and Mid and East Antrim Borough council mayor Peter Johnston gave evidence to Stormont's agriculture committee yesterday.

It is examining the decision by the council to withdraw staff from Irish Sea border inspection duties at Larne port after the appearance of threatening graffiti in the seaside town and claims that car registrations had been taken down.

The DUP minister later also withdrew Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) staff from Larne and Belfast ports.

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It is understood Ms Donaghy claimed the UDA was behind the threats but police said there was no evidence that loyalist paramilitary groups were involved.

Details of the letter was also raised by Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan and Alliance Party assembly member John Blair.

Ms Donaghy claimed she wrote the letter in her role as "a national senior representative of Solace", a network for public sector officials, of which she is listed as a non executive director.

The letter was written on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council headed paper and is dated January 30 - two days before the controversial decision was taken to withdraw staff from Larne by the council and Daera.

In the letter she identifies herself as the council chief executive and chair of the Northern Ireland EU Exit Task and Force Working Group and tells a Cabinet Office official she has written "in confidence".

"I have been advised by local MPs, Mr Ian Paisley, Mr Sammy Wilson and Mr Jeffrey Donaldson that I should write to you to inform you of my first hand experience in relation to the difficulties, concerns and involving issues that are emerging locally with the implementation of the NI Protocol after only 30 days," she wrote.

Under a section entitled 'security' Ms Donaghy tells the official "I am aware of the involvement of paramilitary groups and recent protests at Larne Port and have escalated (sic) this to senior PSNI and executive officials".

She added that she felt "compelled to take measures to protect the health, safety and well being of my staff".

"In doing so this may have implications for the supply chain at this very busy port," she wrote.

Under another section headed 'charges' she wrote "there is no precedent for Northern Ireland to operate as a third country whilst remaining part of the UK, and indeed, part of the UK's customs territory.

She added: "For me Northern Ireland is not part of the EU and therefore I question the legality of the arrangements as they stand and the principles of consent enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which continues to be implemented."

Alliance MLA John Blair raised the matter of the letter and said: "It would have been remiss of me not mention the letter which refers to the position of staff in the Port of Larne and was essential I raised that given the nature of the inquiry."

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan said the letter raised issues as it "talks about the chief executive taking measures about port staff three days prior to the council meeting and discussion on the matter."

A spokesman for the council said: "The letter was written on behalf of the chair of the Solace NI EU Exit Task and Finish Working Group, as clearly stated."

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