'Sinister and ugly' threats to North's port staff condemned

The European Commission has told its staff at the ports to stay at home because of the threats, which are believed to come from loyalist crime groups
'Sinister and ugly' threats to North's port staff condemned

Graffiti reading 'No Irish Sea border' near Belfast City centre. The European Commission has told its staff at two ports to stay at home because of threats and intimidation believed to come from loyalist crime groups. Picture: David Young/PA

The Taoiseach has hit out at the "sinister and ugly" threats which have led to a suspension of Brexit checks at two ports in Northern Ireland.

The North's Department of Agriculture (DAERA) confirmed that it has suspended Brexit checks on food and animal products at Larne and Belfast amid the appearance of threatening graffiti around the ports and across the region.

The European Commission has told its staff at the ports to stay at home because of the threats, which are believed to come from loyalist crime groups.

Vehicles leave the port of Larne, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, after arriving from Scotland. Authorities in Northern Ireland have suspended post-Brexit border checks on animal products and withdrawn workers after threats against border staff. 	Picture: Peter Morrison/AP
Vehicles leave the port of Larne, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, after arriving from Scotland. Authorities in Northern Ireland have suspended post-Brexit border checks on animal products and withdrawn workers after threats against border staff. Picture: Peter Morrison/AP

Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said: "The security of our staff in Northern Ireland is as high a preoccupation as that of any other person working in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

“We have asked them not to attend their duties today and we will continue to monitor the situation and adapt accordingly.”

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has also withdrawn its staff from Larne port. A statement from the council said it is "immediately withdrawing its staff from inspection duties at Larne Port" over concerns for their safety and welfare as graffiti has been seen in the area threatening staff and calling for the end of the Northern Protocol and Good Friday Agreement.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it is "very concerning news" and said that the Government condemned the "tactics" used.

"It's a very sinister and ugly development. Obviously, we will be doing everything we possibly can to assist them to defuse the situation."

The Northern Ireland Executive also condemned the graffiti, issuing a statement saying that the "threats should be lifted".

"As public servants, these staff should be allowed to do their jobs without fear and it is unacceptable and intolerable that threats have been made.

Graffiti reading 'No Irish Sea border' near Belfast City centre. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the intimidation is "very concerning news" and that the Government condemned the tactics used. 	Picture: David Young/PA Wire
Graffiti reading 'No Irish Sea border' near Belfast City centre. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the intimidation is "very concerning news" and that the Government condemned the tactics used. Picture: David Young/PA Wire

"The threats should be lifted immediately and staff should be allowed to return to their posts and get back to their work. There is no place in society for intimidation and threats against anyone going to their place of work."

The suspension of checks comes as the Seanad special select committee on Brexit, and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s committee for the executive office, met to discuss adaptation to checks across the island.

Chair of the North's executive office committee, Colin McGrath, said that the issue is not the Northern Protocol.

“It’s not the Protocol causing these problems: it’s Brexit.”

Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson said the protocol was "being targeted".

Over the weekend, there was condemnation of threatening graffiti in Belfast targeting Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. 

The message scrawled on a wall in the Belvoir area of south Belfast has since been painted over. Graffiti was also sprayed on two offices of the North's Alliance Party, one of which read "RIP GFA (Good Friday Agreement)".

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