Post-Brexit checks to resume at Northern Ireland’s ports

Rebecca Black, PA
·3-min read

Post-Brexit checks at all Northern Ireland’s ports will resume from Wednesday.

Inspections of animal-based food produce arriving at Belfast and Larne ports were suspended last Monday amid concerns over the safety of staff.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council had raised concerns of “menacing behaviour” being aimed at workers.

An anti-Brexit sign near the entrance to Larne Port (Brian Lawless/PA)

Threatening graffiti expressing opposition to a so-called Irish Sea border had appeared in the Larne area.

Former Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots ordered the suspension of checks shortly before stepping down from the role to receive medical treatment.

His successor Gordon Lyons maintained the position.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) since said there was no evidence of “credible threats”.

On Tuesday, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said checks will resume on a phased basis from Wednesday.

A spokesperson said the decision was arrived at after receiving the full threat assessment from the PSNI, conducting their own internal risk assessment and liaising with staff and unions to put mitigations in place.

“The department’s permanent secretary and chief veterinary officer have confirmed that physical checks on products of animal origin at all Northern Ireland’s points of entry are planned to recommence on a phased basis, as of tomorrow, Wednesday 10 February 2021,” the spokesperson said.

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan welcomed the move but said “serious questions” remain for the Agriculture Minister.

“The safe return of workers is a priority and their safety must be paramount,” he said.

“While it is welcome that workers will be back in post, there are still serious questions to be answered by the Minister for Agriculture around how and why the staff were withdrawn in the first place and who made the decision.”

Unionists and Loyalists have voiced opposition to post-Brexit arrangements, which have seen the introduction of additional checks on some goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Signs and graffiti opposing an Irish Sea border have appeared across the region.

A Loyalist sign in Markethill, in County Armagh, about the Irish Sea border. (Liam McBurney/PA)

TUV councillor Timothy Gaston said the new checks undermine the union.

“Violence and threats of violence were always and always will be wrong. Unlike some in Northern Ireland politics, TUV has always been clear on this point,” he said.

“We continue to believe that the checks at the ports, which by law can only be carried out by Minister Lyons’s department, should cease, not in the face of threats but as a point of principle.

“I would appeal to the new agriculture minister to take the bold and decisive political action which is required to show that Unionists are serious about defending our place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

“The danger which the Irish Sea border poses to our constitutional status is clear. It’s time to take the robust action necessary to defend the Union.”