Irish Sea border: DUP minister says he didn’t know what his own department was doing until told by the News Letter

A DUP minister has said that he did not know that his department had advertised for staff to conduct Irish Sea border checks until told about it by the News Letter.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 8:33 pm
Edwin Poots did not speak out publicly until after the News Letter revealed what was going on

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said this afternoon that he knew nothing about the move and that he had now halted the recruitment competition.

He denied that it had been a quiet U-turn by the DUP – which just four weeks ago had very publicly announced it would stop recruiting border inspectors.

On Wednesday morning, the News Letter pointed out to Mr Poot’s departmental press office that the department had advertised for inspectors. We asked if this represented a wider change of policy to cooperate with the expansion of the new trade frontier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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Despite repeated reminders, the department refused to comment and the news was reported on the front page of this morning’s News Letter.

The department continued to refuse to comment this morning. However, at lunchtime Mr Poots tweeted to say: “I became aware yesterday that a decision had been made by officials to recruit additional staff for border control posts.

“The permanent secretary was unaware of this decision. This recruitment exercise will not continue as no authorisation was given for it. I am seeking a full explanation as to how this happened.

“In line with previous [sic] the announced decision, the department will not be investing further in port inspection facilities until the government provide clarity.”

Mr Poots did not explain why the advertisements remained live on the civil service website until this afternoon, nor why he only spoke publicly to distance himself from his department’s actions more than a day after his department was asked about the issue by this newspaper.

By the point Mr Poots spoke out, he was facing criticism from unionists.

Two hours after Mr Poots’s social media comments, his department finally issued a statement which said that “the advertisement issued incorrectly specified that new staff would be solely located to the Points of Entry. The department has now withdrawn the recruitment exercise until further notice.

“Ministers are not involved in routine recruitment and therefore the minister was unaware of this advert being placed. In line with the instruction from the previous minister, and good governance, the department will not be investing in staff for permanent portal facilities ahead of further clarity from the UK Government and consideration by the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Former Ulster Unionist minister Lord Empey said: “Chaos in this department has been evident for months. It looks like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. There is radical change required if this chaos is to be brought to an end.”

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