Blog: Council chief sent DUP-advised NI Protocol letter to Edwin Poots – Belfast Live

An under-fire council boss shared a DUP-advised letter she sent to the UK government on her NI Protocol concerns with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.

Mid and East Antrim’s Anne Donaghy forwarded the letter to Mr Poots hours before the minister and council chose to withdraw Brexit staff from Larne and Belfast ports over threat fears.

The council chief executive has been urged to “consider her position” and is being recalled to a Stormont committee inquiry after the full letter was revealed by Belfast Live.

MLAs are examining the decision on February 1 to temporarily remove staff after police said there was no evidence of “credible threats” and claims of loyalist paramilitary involvement were ruled out.

Ms Donaghy wrote to the Cabinet Office on January 30 on the advice of DUP MPs Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Jeffrey Donaldson.

She had not disclosed the letter in more than 50 pages of documentation supplied to the inquiry when she attended on Thursday, saying it was “not relevant”.

Ms Donaghy also said it was “written in confidence” in her role as a representative of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace).

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

An email seen by Belfast Live shows Ms Donaghy told Mr Poots she sent the letter “as Mid and East Antrim Borough Council chief executive”.

No reference was made to Solace when she forwarded the letter to Mr Poots shortly after 9.30am on February 1.

Ms Donaghy wrote to the DUP minister: “First of all I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for taking my call at the weekend regarding a number of issues at the port and in particular the continued safety of my staff.

“I wish to advise that I will be taking further advice from the PSNI regarding the situation.”

She said her concerns were “so great that on Saturday I wrote as Mid and East Antrim Borough Council chief executive” to a senior official in the Cabinet Office “in order to escalate the concerns at the highest level”.

Ms Donaghy said she sent her NI Protocol letter to the Cabinet Office on the advice of DUP MPs including Ian Paisley
(Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Later that evening, the council decided to pull staff from Larne Port and Mr Poots subsequently ordered the withdrawal of departmental staff from Larne and Belfast ports.

Ms Donaghy told MLAs on Thursday her Cabinet Office letter was sent on February 3, but the council now accepts this was incorrect.

In her five-page letter, entitled “NI concerns on the implementation of the NI Protocol”, Ms Donaghy claimed there was paramilitary activity at Larne Port and said she felt “compelled” to take measures to protect staff.

She also questioned the impact of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements on the “principles of consent enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement”.

The SDLP has called on Ms Donaghy to “consider her position”, while Sinn Féin said if reports on her letter were accurate they “make her position untenable” as it appeared to be “based on the word of one political party”.

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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.

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”.

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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 1 February – 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.”

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

The DUP said Ms Donaghy “contacted a number of representatives about concerns related to the protocol”.

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

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