Committee publishes report into the withdrawal of DAERA and local authority staff from ports
The Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has today published a report on its investigation into the decision made on 1 February 2021 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council (MEABC) to withdraw staff from undertaking checks on goods entering Larne and Belfast ports on a temporary basis.
These checks had come into effect on 1 January 2021 as a result of the NI Protocol.
In a statement the Committee said it hadexamined a wide range of oral and written evidence provided by key stakeholders and was informed that there were multiple factors that contributed to the decision to withdraw staff from undertaking Protocol-related checks.
It continued: “The Committee found that:
· Officials cited that the main reason why staff were withdrawn was a perceived risk to their security based on threatening graffiti that emerged near ports and other reports of concerning behaviour
· Some senior individuals believed there to be paramilitary involvement in these activities based on information they received from grassroots contacts
· The PSNI provided consistent verbal assurances to officials that the risk to port staff was low and that there was no information to substantiate paramilitary involvement
· Organisations responsible for staff at ports took different approaches to reported threats based on local context and consideration of PSNI advice
· There was limited justification for the decision to suspend staff from undertaking checks
“The Committee also identified several issues relating to correspondence sent by the MEABC Chief Executive to the Cabinet Office on 30 January 2021 that outlined a range of Protocol-related challenges and cited paramilitary involvement in activities in the vicinity of the ports.
“The Committee has concerns regarding the quality and credibility of some of the evidence provided by MEABC, due to several contradictions and inconsistencies in the information provided.”
The Committee has made a number of recommendations for consideration by relevant stakeholders. The full report, that was agreed by the majority of Committee Members, can be read at http://nia1.me/4nj