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Belfast and Larne port staff pulled over ‘upsurge in sinister behaviour’

Written by on 01/02/2021

An “upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks” has led to all regulatory animal-based food checks to be suspended at Belfast and Larne ports.

It comes after council staff at Larne Port were withdrawn from inspection duties amid concerns for their safety and welfare.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said the decision was made following discussions with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

“The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual.”

Twelve Mid and East Antrim Borough Council staff assisting officials from Daera and UK Border Force with checks at the port were withdrawn from their duties with immediate effect on Monday.

A road sign close to Larne Port for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Redlands site. It will be used to inspect animal products travelling from Great Britain into Northern Ireland after the post-Brexit transition period at the end of the year.
Image: council staff at Larne Port were withdrawn from inspection duties (File pic)

The council said the decision was made following an “upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks”.

Graffiti appeared in the area last month referencing tensions about the Northern Ireland Protocol and describing port staff as “targets”.

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There have also been a number of daubings in Belfast amid anger at the protocol, with a raft of new checks on goods arriving at ports from Great Britain introduced at the start of the year.

The council said the situation has caused “extreme distress and worry to staff”, and it had “no option but to withdraw them from their duties in order to fulfil its duty of care”.

It apologised for any disruption but said “the safety and wellbeing of staff is of paramount importance”.

In addition to concerns over graffiti it is understood staff expressed concerns that individuals had been spotted taking down number plate details.

Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown said: “Our staff will step away from this work and will only return when we are totally satisfied it is safe and right for them to do so.

“There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.”

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said force officials will meet partner agencies later to discuss the situation.

He said: “The safety of staff working at points of entry is of the utmost importance to us. Where we have any credible information we will share that with our partners and take the appropriate action.

“We have increased patrols at Larne Port and other points of entry in order to reassure staff and the local community”.

Police last month warned that discontent in loyalist communities was “growing” over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is designed to allow the country to follow the EU’s customs rules and has caused delays at ports because of new declarations and checks.

The DUP has been vociferous in opposition to the protocol’s operation.

The party’s North Antrim MP Ian Paisley condemned the threats to staff but said the protocol was “bound to cause these problems”.

“Such tactics have no place in a democracy,” he said.

 Sky News

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