Blog: Solace distances itself from council chief’s NI Protocol letter – Belfast Live

A body representing senior council officials has distanced itself from a DUP-advised letter by Mid and East Antrim’s chief executive on her NI Protocol concerns.

Anne Donaghy is facing calls to “consider her position” after writing the letter to the UK government on the advice of DUP MPs Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Jeffrey Donaldson.

The full correspondence was revealed by Belfast Live after Ms Donaghy appeared at a Stormont committee inquiry examining the temporary withdrawal of Brexit staff from Larne and Belfast ports over threat fears.

MLAs are examining the decision in February by the council and Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots after police said there was no evidence of “credible threats”.

Ms Donaghy had not disclosed the letter in more than 50 pages of documentation supplied to the inquiry, saying it was “not relevant”.

She told MLAs 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.

Ms Donaghy also told Mr Poots in an email she had sent the letter “as Mid and East Antrim Borough Council chief executive”.

The senior official is chair of the Solace NI EU Exit Task and Finish Working Group, which involves staff from each of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils.

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

In a statement, Solace NI said: “The letter referred to was written by Anne Donaghy as chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.”

It added: “Other Solace members did not see this correspondence prior to its issue.”

The letter sent to the Cabinet Office on January 30 did not mention “Solace”, but Ms Donaghy referred to herself as chair of the NI EU Exit Task and “Force” Working Group.

Solace NI said in her role, Ms Donaghy engages with Stormont’s agriculture department and other bodies “regarding the implementation of the NI Protocol from a local government perspective and updates Solace on emerging issues on a regular basis”.

Belfast City Council said it was unaware of the letter before it emerged last week and its Solace working group reps did not give prior approval for it to be sent.

In her letter, Ms Donaghy raised security concerns over Larne Port and 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”.

Alliance MLA John Blair said there are “clearly more questions needing answered”.

Mid and East Antrim council said as chair of the Solace working group Ms Donaghy engages “with a wide range of stakeholders”.

“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,” it added.

The DUP said Ms Donaghy contacted a number of representatives about concerns over the NI Protocol, adding: “In line with normal parliamentary protocol it was suggested that she highlight those concerns in writing to the government.”

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