Blog: Council chief asked to ‘consider her position’ after NI Protocol letter – Belfast Live

A council chief executive has been urged to “consider her position” for writing a letter to the UK government about her NI Protocol concerns on the advice of DUP MPs.

Mid and East Antrim council’s Anne Donaghy is also being recalled to a Stormont committee to answer further questions after Belfast Live revealed the full correspondence.

Her letter to the Cabinet Office was sent two days before the council and Stormont’s agriculture department temporarily withdrew staff conducting Brexit checks from Larne and Belfast ports over safety fears.

An Assembly inquiry is examining the decision on February 1 after police said there was no evidence of “credible threats” and claims of loyalist paramilitary involvement were ruled out.

Ms Donaghy was repeatedly asked during a committee session on Thursday about the confidential letter.

She had not disclosed it in more than 50 pages of documentation supplied beforehand, saying it was “not relevant to this inquiry”.

Ms Donaghy told MLAs she had sent the letter in her role as a representative of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace).

However, the letter was written on council-headed paper and does not explicitly mention Solace.

Ms Donaghy told the Cabinet Office she sent the letter on the advice of DUP MPs including Sammy Wilson

The five-page document, entitled “NI concerns on the implementation of the NI Protocol”, was dated January 30.

Ms Donaghy wrote: “I have been advised by my local MPs, Mr Ian Paisley, Mr Sammy Wilson and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that I should write to you to inform you of my first-hand experience in relation to the difficulties, concerns and evolving issues that are emerging locally with the implementation of the NI Protocol after only 30 days.”

She added: “For me Northern Ireland is not part of the EU and therefore I question the legality of the arrangements as they stand and the principles of consent enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which continues to be implemented.”

The Agriculture committee is set to ask Ms Donaghy to attend again to answer further questions following the emergence of the letter.

It is also expected to write to Solace to request information.

The SDLP called on Ms Donaghy to “consider her position”.

MLA Patsy McGlone said: “The contents of the letter raise questions about the evidence presented to the committee, particularly around the degree to which Solace was aware that it was issued given the comments made by Ms Donaghy.”

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan
(Image: John McIlwaine/Press Eye)

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan said if reports on Ms Donaghy’s letter were accurate, they “make her position untenable”.

He added: “That is not the role of a chief executive and she can no longer command confidence in her position.”

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has asked Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to give her assessment and set out her department’s powers on local government oversight.

His party colleague John Blair said there are “clearly more questions needing answered”.

Ms Donaghy’s letter did not mention “Solace”, but she referred to herself as chair of the NI EU Exit Task and “Force” Working Group.

Mid and East Antrim Council said the letter “clearly stated” it was written on behalf of the chair of the “Solace NI EU Exit Task and Finish Working Group”.

A council spokesman said the chair regularly engages “with a wide range of stakeholders regionally and nationally regarding the smooth implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

“It had no bearing whatsoever on the decision to withdraw council staff from Larne Port on February 1 – a decision taken unanimously by elected members at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in prioritising the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff at the port.”

Anne Donaghy, chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

The council said the letter is “irrelevant” to the Stormont inquiry, but they are “happy to share this with the committee, as requested”.

A DUP spokesman said Ms Donaghy “contacted a number of representatives about concerns related to the Protocol, surrounding a potential levy being imposed on users of Larne port”.

“In line with normal parliamentary protocol it was suggested that she highlight those concerns in writing to the government.”

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