Blog: Two NI council chief executives deny backing controversial Brexit letter sent to Cabinet Office – Belfast Telegraph

Two chief executives of Northern Ireland councils have denied backing a controversial letter sent to the Cabinet Office over Brexit concerns.

elfast City Council’s Suzanne Wylie and Marie Ward from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council were both giving evidence to a Stormont Committee yesterday.

Their evidence was part of an investigation into a decision to withdraw some staff from Larne and Belfast ports in February.

It followed a decision by Mid and East Antrim Council to remove workers from Larne Port despite a PSNI assessment finding that there was no serious threat.

Days earlier, Mid and East Antrim chief executive Anne Donaghy had written to the Cabinet Office about the matter.

On the advice of three DUP MPs, she set out her concerns about how Brexit was affecting port business and about threats against staff and sinister graffiti.

She had previously claimed to have signed it on behalf of Solace, a body representing all council chief executives.

When the letter was leaked, however, it was found to contain no reference to Solace.

Ms Wylie told the committee that Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots had called her on January 31 to raise concerns about rising tensions over Brexit. She said she had agreed to investigate, but after calling police she was told there was no specific security threat at Belfast port.

After becoming aware that workers had been removed from Larne Port, Belfast also suspended some physical port checks on February 1 while waiting for more information.

She said checks resumed the next day on goods arriving from outside of the UK.

It was another week, however, before checks on goods from the UK could be carried out as staff from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs had yet to return.

The same problems were not replicated in Warrenpoint Port, which has a lower volume of port traffic.

With the warnings received on the evening of February 1, it had been too late to reach a staff member to advise him to work from home.

Earlier this month, Ms Donaghy and Mid and East Antrim Mayor Peter Johnston both stood by their decision to withdraw staff, saying that their main priority was ensuring employee safety.

Meanwhile, last night a crowd of loyalists gathered as part of a peaceful protest in the Shore Road area of north Belfast.

Images showed those in the crowd holding banners protesting against the Irish Sea border.

PSNI officers and Land Rovers could be seen in attendance at the protest, but there were no reports of any violence.

The PSNI has been approached for comment.

Belfast Telegraph

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