Border staff pulled from Larne and Belfast ports over safety threats

Border staff have been pulled from checkpoints in Larne and Belfast following “serious concerns” for safety.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council last night said “no option but to withdraw them” immediately from their duties at Larne Port with the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs following suit for staff at both Larne and Belfast ports.

Sinister graffiti warning “all border post staff are targets” appeared in Larne just a few days ago.

The council said the situation had “caused extreme distress and worry” to staff and added it would carry out a risk assessment alongside the PSNI, Food Standards Agency and DAERA.

Shortly before he stood down from his position last night to facilitate surgery, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots also decided to withdraw his department’s staff from their posts.

He said: “In consultation with my staff I have decided to withdraw staff from Belfast and Larne ports tonight. Their safety remains paramount.

I have spoken to Her Majesty’s Government Ministers and outlined the issues of concern. I welcome the support of my party leader in making such a significant decision.

The move was unanimously agreed by the council’s group party leaders at an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon and agreed at full council.

It follows an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks, including the appearance of graffiti within the local area referencing increasing tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol and describing Port staff as “targets”.

‘Simmering tensions’

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, said: “We have seen what I would describe as deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping of community tensions towards the NI Protocol, particularly in recent days.

“The health and wellbeing of our staff is always this council’s number one priority and that is why the decision has been taken to withdraw them from their work at the port with immediate effect until we have very real assurances and full confidence that they can go about their duties without fear, threat or concern for their wellbeing.”

Sinn Fein group party leader on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, 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.

The council had 12 environmental health officers attached to the work at the port until last night’s decision, as well as a number of senior council officers.