Some Northern Irish port staff return to inspection posts

·2-min read

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Some Northern Irish port staff will return to inspection duties on Friday after their withdrawal this week by a local council over safety concerns sparked renewed calls for changes to the British-run region's post-Brexit trade arrangements.

The council, whose staff inspected goods at Larne Port, said on Monday that serious concerns around their safety were raised after a rise in "menacing behaviour" in recent weeks, including the appearance of graffiti describing port staff as "targets".

Many pro-British Northern Irish unionists fiercely oppose any barriers with the rest of the United Kingdom. The EU and Britain agreed this week to try to resolve some of the issues that have already impeded deliveries of goods, notably food.

The Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said its staff would return to their posts at Larne Port on Friday evening following the completion of a threat assessment by Northern Ireland police.

Northern Ireland's agriculture department temporarily halted physical inspections of products of animal origin at Larne and Belfast ports after the staff were withdrawn.

A spokesman for the department said it was considering the findings of the police report alongside its own internal risk assessment and that any decision to recommence full checks would be informed by both documents.

Northern Ireland remains deeply divided along sectarian lines even after a 1998 peace deal, with Catholic nationalists aspiring to unification with Ireland and Protestant unionists wanting to remain part of the UK.

While Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Arlene Foster has called for the checks to be scrapped, non-unionist politicians are seeking changes to ease the flow of goods.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned on Thursday that there was no scope for dramatic changes as the dispute threatens to reopen a rift that bedevilled years of Brexit talks just one month after Britain left the EU's orbit.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Alex Richardson)