Council chief to reappear before committee over port security fears

A letter sent from a council chief to the Cabinet Office – relating to the NI Protocol and Irish Sea border checks – is to be produced for scrutiny by Stormont’s Daera committee.

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 6:52 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 9:25 am

Mid and East Antrim Council chief executive Anne Donaghy wrote the letter outlining alleged threats to council staff working at Larne port, and expressing concern about the impact of the NI Protocol.

Although the letter leaked to Belfast Live is dated January 30, Ms Donaghy informed the last sitting of the committee that it was not sent until February 3 – two days after staff were withdrawn over concerns for their safety.

It is written on council headed notepaper and contains a claim from Ms Donaghy that she had been advised by three DUP MPs to write the letter expressing her concerns.

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The decision to withdraw staff operating post-Brexit checks on goods arriving at the Larne port is being investigated by the Daera committee at Stormont. Picture: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

It was not originally included in a bundle of documents provided for scrutiny as Ms Donaghy said she did not believe it was relevant.

A copy of the letter has now been published online by Belfast Live.

Giving evidence to the committee earlier this month, PSNI ACC Bobby Singleton confirmed that – although graffiti and appeared in Larne and there was “heightened tension” – no credible threat or risk to workers was being investigated by police.

At an evidence session last Thursday, the mayor of Mid and East Antrim Peter Johnston (DUP) said he feels “badly let down” by police in events around the withdrawal of staff from post-Brexit checks at Larne Port.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy

He said Ms Donaghy “almost had to chase to the chief constable’s office with a begging bowl” for a threat assessment and added: “We as an organisation... had to take the decision fast.”

Mr Johnston and Ms Donaghy both stood by the decision to withdraw staff... describing their priority as staff safety. Mr Johnston also said 12 staff “have been left seriously emotionally traumatised” by their ordeal.

DUP MLA William Irwin claimed the committee probe has been a “witch hunt” that was “haranguing a chief executive and a mayor over a sensible decision taken for the safety of their own staff”.

Yesterday, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: “My only aim in the committee is the pursuit of the truth and the facts around what happened... by way of the withdrawal of the staff from the Port of Larne – and that is what the task of the inquiry is. I am part of the enquiry team and that is my sole aim. All the evidence that is presented to the committee will be scrutinised.”

A Mid and East Antrim Council spokesperson said:“The DAERA committee inquiry is still ongoing, with council due to return to provide further information on 6 May.

“Council will share the letter with the committee as requested and address any queries from its members. It would be inappropriate for council to comment further at this stage.”