NIO dodges NI Protocol queries on NI Centenary trees for every school - school governor asks if Irish Sea Border is causing delays
The Northern Ireland Office has declined to say whether alleged delays in sending NI Centenary trees to every school in the Province have been caused by the NI Protocol.
The government has instead insisted that the trees are still on schedule for delivery this autumn.
Tom Robinson, a former mayor of Larne District Council and governor of three local schools, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his concerns.
Mr Robinson has asked him to ensure the promise of the centenary trees is not blocked due to EU customs restrictions between NI and GB in the NI Protocol.
One of the schools in which he serves as vice chairman of the board of governors, Carnalbanagh Primary School, will close at the end of this academic year, and he is fearful that a tree may not be delivered in time.
“These young people are going to be the last pupils of Carnalbanagh Primary School and it would be a memorable occasion for them to be able to see this tree planted before the end of the summer term and to watch it grow as they get older,” he told the prime minister in his letter.
Mr Robinson said: “I have been assured that a tree will arrive in time for this to happen, but I have a lot of questions as to why there is an issue with provision of these trees generally.”
He noted that the Woodland Trust website has publicly said it cannot currently send trees to NI due to “shipping restrictions”.
And he noted a report in the Guardian newspaper in February that orders for almost 100,000 trees have been cancelled by Northern Ireland buyers because of a post-Brexit ban on the plants being moved from Britain.
This has left him “very concerned” about the possible impact of the NI Protocol.
“I don’t know why the trees have not arrived for local schools and maybe there is another explanation, but I am very concerned about what I have heard and read in the media about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol on the situation,”
The News Letter contacted the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for clarification on the issue. However, the response made no attempt to allay his fears on the NI Protocol – nor did it even mention it.
However an NIO spokeswoman said the delivery of the trees is still on schedule.
“It remains the case that every school in Northern Ireland will be offered, should they wish to take part, a native tree to plant in their grounds as part of the Centenary year,” she said.
“We continue to be on schedule to offer the scheme to schools in September with planting to take place from October. An offer letter and details of how to apply will be sent to schools in early September.”
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