Council ‘assessing situation’ over Larne port staff after Poots ‘halts’ checks

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has said it will be “assessing the situation” surrounding checks by staff at Larne port following an announcement on Wednesday by DAERA Minister DUP MLA Edwin Poots as negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol continue.

Twelve environmental health officers are employed by the local authority to assist with post-Brexit checks at the Redlands Road DAERA border control post at the Port of Larne.

The DAERA (Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) Minister said that he had “issued a formal instruction to halt all checks that were not in place on 31 December 2020”.

The Protocol requires the completion of checks on certain goods shipped from GB into the province’s ports in advance of onward transit to the Republic of Ireland and into the EU. The responsibility for undertaking these checks is shared between DAERA and councils.

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    Port of Larne

    A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Council will be engaging with our statutory partners and elected representatives throughout the day to assess the situation.”

    Mr Poots stated: “I have taken legal advice in relation to my position from senior counsel. Earlier today I received that legal advice. It stated that there is presently no Executive approval for SPS  (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) checks. The implementation of SPS checks requires Executive approval.

    “And a decision to initiate or continue such checks could not be validly taken in the absence of Executive approval. The advice concluded that I can direct the checks to cease in the absence of Executive approval.

    “I have now issued a formal instruction to my permanent secretary to halt all checks that were not in place on 31 December 2020 from midnight tonight. I will prepare a paper for Executive consideration in the near future to seek agreement on a way forward.”

    Commenting on social media, Seamus Leheny, policy manager for Logistics UK, in Northern Ireland, said: “Under SPS controls, 12% loads into NI require documentary checks and 3% physical checks.

    “All loads still require customs entries to enable shipping ex GB to NI. Still a big effort to move goods. We would like no checks and minimum administration to happen requires UK and EU to agree negotiated outcome.”

    Also commenting on social media,  East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: “The Irish Sea border is costing Northern Ireland £2.5m every day. The Irish Sea border is driving down consumer choice and pushing prices up. Halting the checks is a welcome first step. ”

    Last February, Mid and East Antrim Council staff were temporarily withdrawn from duties at the Port of Larne over  “concerns for their safety and welfare”  following “an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour” in previous weeks, the council said at the time.

    Mid and East Antrim’s chief executive Anne Donaghy, who is currently on sick leave, has said that she is seeking legal advice over the findings of an inquiry by the AERA Committee that followed.

    The findings and recommendations were agreed by the majority of AERA Committee members following its investigation into the decision made by DAERA and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council  to withdraw staff from undertaking checks on goods entering Larne and Belfast ports on a temporary basis on February 1.

    Officials at Northern Ireland ports are obligated to undertake checks on goods transported from Great Britain in order to ensure compliance with EU regulations. In June, an EU audit of the shared use of Larne Border Control Post for the inspection of food and non-foodstuffs was carried out.

    Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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