Last updated: Tuesday, 02 February, 2021, 17:29
The DUP has announced a series of political steps aimed at undermining the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The party said it will:
– oppose protocol-related legislation in the Stormont Assembly.
– not participate in any north/south political engagement on issues related to the protocol.
– strive for a united unionist message demanding scrapping of the arrangements.
– attempt to build support for the anti-protocol position at Westminster.
– launch a parliamentary e-petition with the ambition of securing enough signatures to force a debate on the issue.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said there was no evidence to suggest loyalist paramilitary groups were behind the threatening behaviour aimed at port staff.
The senior officer told the PA news agency police believe disgruntled individuals or small groups were behind the incidents.
“We are aware of a single anonymous piece of information that has been circulating and that has caused real concern to staff and to their employers,” he said.
“We were able to share with partners our assessment today that there is absolutely no information to substantiate or corroborate the claims made that paramilitary organisations are involved or behind threats or intimidation to staff at points of entry.”
Mr McEwan said the last number of weeks had seen increased “tensions and discontent” within the community in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We are concerned about the actions of a number of individuals and small groups,” he said.
“We don’t believe that those actions are organised. But they do give us cause for concern.”
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan characterised the incidents as “low-level”.
“We believe this is the actions of individuals and small groups involved in spraying graffiti and other low-level types of incidents that has resulted in staff feeling threatened and intimidated and that’s what has led us to this point,” he said.
Mr McEwan said patrols would be stepped up to provide reassurance to those involved in the work at ports.
He stressed it would be a decision for the agencies involved when staff would return to their inspection roles.
The senior officer also called for leadership and urged those with influence to work to calm tensions.
“We can see that growing discontent and strain and that is a concern for us and we would call for leaders in our communities and across the spectrum to urge calm and ask people to step back just at this point,” he said.
Michael Gove added that he will be meeting the Vice-President of the European Commission on Wednesday.
He said: “(Ms Haigh) is absolutely right that the end of grace periods when it comes to both export health certificates and other issues do need to be addressed.
“I will be writing to vice president Maros Sefcovic later today to outline some specific steps that we believe that we need to take.
“Tomorrow I will be meeting with him, and also with the first minister and the deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland executive, in order to ensure that we can make rapid progress through the joint committee.”
Mr. Gove made the comments after an urgent question from Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Louise Haigh, MP in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Protocol is a “terrible disaster” and issues are “not teething problems,” former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said.
He told the Commons: “The reality, though, is that the Protocol is simply not working, these are not teething problems.
“He mentioned Article 16 but Article 16 is very clear. It says it can be invoked under economic, societal or environmental problems leading to, for example, a diversion of trade.
“We’ve already seen companies that normally ship to Northern Ireland now saying publicly they won’t bother any more because it’s too difficult.
“We are seeing also diversion where some of the supermarkets and others are talking about depots now in southern Ireland rather than in mainland GB.
“I ask my right honourable friend, therefore, for all the talks about teething problems, in the short-term what would he do to rectify this terrible disaster?”
Senior figures from Brussels, Westminster and Stormont will discuss the situation in Northern Ireland’s ports on Wednesday, the European Commission said.
UK Cabinet minister Michael Gove, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic will take part in a video conference.
Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters: “We condemn very strongly any threats of violence against port officials or anybody else in Northern Ireland who are simply exercising their duties and implementing the Withdrawal Agreement.
“That must be absolutely clear.
“Therefore, in such circumstances, we understand indeed that decisions have been taken by the Northern Irish authorities to temporarily suspend a number of checks that are foreseen for the transfer of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
“It is obvious for us that the first and utmost priority is the safety of people.”
Brussels was in contact with the UK authorities “both from a security perspective and from the perspective of the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said Brussels’ officials were being temporarily withdrawn from duties at the ports.
“Obviously 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,” he told reporters in Brussels.
“We have asked them not to attend their duties today and we will continue to monitor the situation and adapt accordingly.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also condemned the threats against Belfast and Larne port staff, and emphasised the “damaging, hateful Protocol that is unstitching the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland must be fought politically”.
“It is the failure of effective political action which opens the door to have other miscreants with wrongful motives fill a resulting vacuum,” he told the Stormont Assembly.
There were calls for cool heads and language to be tempered in the Northern Ireland Assembly following threats against staff at Belfast and Larne ports.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson brought a Matter of the Day and opened by criticising the threats as “unacceptable”, and urged “calm, cool, collected thoughts around this issue”.
DUP MLA William Irwin condemned the threats and called for those behind the “sinister activity” to “desist immediately”.
He revealed he was contacted by police on Saturday and informed of “social media misinformation” and a threat against him.
Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon condemned the threats as well as “RIP Good Friday Agreement” graffiti scrawled on the office of Alliance MP Stephen Farry earlier, and urged those speaking to “watch their tone”.
“We need to have cool heads, we need to temper our language, we need to know that the tone that we set in this place is what will happen outside, and for us not to take full responsibility for that is disingenuous,” she said.
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone condemned the threats against port staff, describing the behaviour as “despicable”, but said all have a duty to calm things down.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs said there should be no place for violence or the threat of violence, and called for clear reflection on the NI Protocol, describing what has been introduced as “not proportionate or reasonable”.
“There is growing discontent in the unionist community and I can only see that growing as more and more people recognise that they have difficulty buying seeds, plants, small parcels, not being to get goods to delivered to them,” he said.
“So there needs to be adjustment.”
All Stormont’s powersharing ministers condemned the threats.
A joint Executive statement said: “Regardless of our very different views on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Executive is united in condemning any threats made against workers and staff going about their duties at Belfast and Larne ports.
“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.
“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.”
DUP MLA and member of the Stormont Agriculture Committee, William Irwin, has revealed a threat was issued against him over the weekend.
Mr. Irwin said the PSNI informed him of a “veiled threat” against him on social media on Saturday.
Mr. Irwin was responding to Matter of the Day concerning so-called threats issued against Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) staff at the port in Larne.
“It is time for unionism to unite against the NI Protocol,” said Mr. Irwin.
SDLP MLA, Patsy McGlone, condemed the threat issued against Mr. Irwin.
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