Northern Ireland news

Anne Donaghy Cabinet Office letter presented 'difficulties' for other council chiefs

Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council
Connla Young

A BODY representing council chief executives has said that parts of a controversial Brexit-linked letter sent by the Anne Donaghy to the Cabinet Office earlier this year "presented difficulties" for other members.

The letter from Solace NI - the group which represents council chiefs - was sent to a Stormont's Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) committee this week by its chair Jacqui Dixon.

The committee has been examining the decision by Mid and East Antrim council (MEA) to temporarily withdraw staff from Larne port on February 1.

DUP minister Edwin Poots later also withdrew Daera staff from Larne and Belfast ports.

Details of the Cabinet Office letter, dated January 30, emerged when MEA chief executive Anne Donaghy and mayor Peter Johnston gave evidence to the committee in April.

Ms Donaghy claimed she wrote the letter in her role as "a national senior representative of Solace".

Solace is the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and includes all 11 council bosses in the north.

In her letter to a Cabinet Office official Ms Donaghy identifies herself as the council chief executive and chair of the NI EU Exit Task and Force Working Group.

She said she was advised to pen the correspondence by DUP MPs Sammy Wilson, Ian Paisley and Jeffrey Donaldson.

Under a section entitled 'security' Ms Donaghy wrote that: "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".

Police later said there was no evidence of loyalist paramilitary involvement.

Under another section headed 'charges' she wrote: "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."

In the recent letter to the Stormont committee Ms Dixon, who is also the chief executive of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, said Solace had reviewed Hansard reports relating to evidence provided by the council together with written evidence "and has asked that additional clarity is provided to the committee".

She added that "there would have been no issue with Ms Donaghy corresponding with the Cabinet Office had the contents of the letter been restricted to the operational issues which had been identified by Solace NI and the EU Task and Finish Working Group."

"However, the parts of the letter which are perceived to be 'political' in nature have presented difficulties for other chief executives."

Ms Dixon did not expand on what the difficulties were.

Ms Dixon also confirmed that the Cabinet Office letter was shared with her on April 23 - the day after Ms Donaghy made the first of two appearances at the committee to give evidence.

"On 6 May Mrs Donaghy advised the committee that the letter dated Jan 30 was shared with the Solace chair," Ms Dixon wrote.

"I can confirm that the letter was shared with the chair on 23 April 2021.

"On 6 May Mrs Donaghy expressed disappointment that Solace did not include all the available evidence on the matter.

"I can confirm that Solace has provided all of the formal records available to us that relate to this matter."

MEA mayor Peter Johnston last night said: “I am extremely disappointed but not surprised that information submitted to the Daera committee appears to have been leaked to the media.

“It has been my position as mayor throughout this inquiry that it is political in nature and has been heavily prejudiced, despite our council being open, transparent and fully co-operative.

“I will be looking at a range of options to take this matter further and will be advising the chief executive to seek further advice on behalf of council.”

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