Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is immediately withdrawing its staff from inspection duties at Larne Port over concerns for their safety and welfare.
The move was unanimously agreed by the Council’s Group Party Leaders at an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon and agreed at Full Council.
It follows an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks, including the appearance of graffiti within the local area referencing increasing tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol and describing Port staff as “targets”.
Trade unions on behalf of Council members of staff assisting with checks at the Port have raised serious concerns around the safety of staff and have sought reassurance on what measures are in place to keep staff safe.
The Council said the ongoing situation has caused extreme distress and worry to staff, and it has no option but to withdraw them from their duties in order to fulfil its duty of care and carry out a full risk assessment with the PSNI, Food Standards Agency and DAERA.
The Council apologised for any disruption this may cause but the safety and wellbeing of staff is of paramount importance.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, said: “We have seen what I would describe as deeply troubling graffiti and a very notable upping of community tensions towards the NI Protocol, particularly in recent days.
“The health and wellbeing of our staff is always this Council’s number one priority and that is why the decision has been taken to withdraw them from their work at the Port with immediate effect until we have very real assurances and full confidence that they can go about their duties without fear, threat or concern for their wellbeing.”
Sinn Fein Group Party Leader on Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor James McKeown, said: “Our staff will step away from this work and will only return when we are totally satisfied it is safe and right for them to do so.
“There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.”
The Council had 12 Environmental Health Officers attached to the work at the Port until today’s decision, as well as a number of senior Council officers.
Council’s Chief Executive spoke with DAERA Minister Edwin Poots to advise him of Council’s decision and further discussions are planned this week.
Council will provide further updates on the situation when it is appropriate to do so.