A COUNCIL chief is facing calls to reconsider her position after it emerged DUP MPs advised her to write to the Cabinet Office to voice concerns about the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mid and East Antrim Council chief executive Anne Donaghy said she was advised to write the letter by Sammy Wilson, Ian Paisley and Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this year.
Details of the confidential correspondence emerged as Ms Donaghy and the council’s DUP mayor Peter Johnston gave evidence to Stormont’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs committee on Thursday.
The committee has been examining the decision by the council to temporarily withdraw staff from the port on February 1.
Mr Johnston and Ms Donaghy both stood by the decision, describing their priority as staff safety.
It emerged last night that a request is to be made to Ms Donaghy to return to the committee as soon as possible.
The letter, was written on council headed paper is dated January 30, two days before the authority withdrew staff from carrying out Brexit checks at Larne port.
DUP minister Edwin Poots also withdrew Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) staff from their duties at Larne and Belfast ports.
During Thursday’s committee meeting Ms Donaghy told MLAs she wrote the letter in her role as “a national senior representative of Solace”, of which she is listed as a non executive director.
Solace is the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and acts as a professional voice for local government.
Under a section entitled ‘security’ Ms Donaghy told the official “I am aware of the involvement of paramilitary groups and recent protests at Larne Port and have escalated (sic) this to senior PSNI and executive officials”.
She added that she felt “compelled to take measures to protect the health, safety and well being of my staff”.
“In doing so this may have implications for the supply chain at this very busy port,” she wrote.
Police have repeatedly said there was no information that loyalist paramilitary groups were involved.
SDLP councillor Eugene Reid last night said Ms Donaghy’s “actions over the last number of months have damaged our confidence in her judgment”.
“It would be appropriate, I believe, for the chief executive to consider her position and the need to restore confidence at a time of heightened tension.”
Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan said: “On the basis of what appears to have been the published letter it seems the chief executive could have gone well beyond what is expected of an unelected official.”
“The chief executive of a council, or acting on behalf of Solace, should not stray into political opinions.”
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, who sits on the Stormont committee, said “it was deeply frustrating” that Ms Donaghy “failed to disclose and provide this letter to the assembly Inquiry”.
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has lodged a question to communities minister Deirdre Hargey asking her for “her assessment of revelations that the chief executive….did not consult the council prior” to the letter being sent.
DUP group leader at Mid and East Antrim council Gregg McKeen last night accused Alliance, Sinn Féin and the SDLP of a “witch hunt” against the council.
“The council has been clear throughout this entire episode that it make no apologies for prioritising the health and well-being of its staff at Larne port.”
The DUP politician said both Ms Donaghy and Mr Johnston “were subjected to an onslaught” of “shamelessly politicking on the safety of council staff”.
In a statement last night a spokesman for Mid and East Antrim council said: “The letter referenced was written on behalf of the Chair (Anne Donaghy OBE) of the Solace NI EU Exit Task and Finish Working Group, as clearly stated.
“In this role, the chair regularly engages, on behalf of local government, with a wide range of stakeholders regionally and nationally regarding the smooth implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“The letter, which reflected a series of concerns brought to the chair’s attention, was marked confidential and was addressed to an official.”
The spokesman said the letter “had no bearing whatsoever on the decision to withdraw council staff from Larne Port on 1 February” but that the authority “is happy to share this with the committee, as requested”.