Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has decided to temporarily suspend physical inspections of products of animal origin at the ports following consultation with local police.
“The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual,” said a DAERA spokesman.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has withdrawn its staff, including environmental health officers and senior council officers, from inspection duties at Larne Port over concerns for their safety and welfare.
The council reported an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour directed towards staff, including the appearance of graffiti referencing increasing tensions surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and labelling port staff as ‘targets’.
It apologised for any disruption caused, but maintained that the safety and wellbeing of its staff was more important.
Commenting on the situation, Luke Hindlaugh, Senior EU and International Trade Executive at the FDF, said: “The safety of port staff, operators and hauliers moving food and drink into Northern Ireland is the very highest priority. While physical checks of food and drink have been suspended, documentary and ID checks continue. Food and drink continues to move into Northern Ireland as it did before the weekend via the same ports and we have yet to see any new issues arising.
“It is vital that solutions are put in place to replace the grace periods that expire in April. Long-term solutions are needed to ensure supplies of food and drink from Great Britain continue to reach customers in Northern Ireland. If that is not the case, it will be too difficult for many businesses in Great Britain to supply the Northern Irish market.”
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman said: “We are meeting with our partner agencies to discuss this matter. The safety of staff working at points of entry is of the utmost importance to us. Where we have any credible information we will share that with our partners and take appropriate action.
“We have increased patrols at Larne Port and other points of entry in order to reassure staff and the local community.”
Meanwhile, the UK Government’s review into the future of gene editing could see a damaging shift away from EU food standards, warned the chairman of Stormont’s Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
He argued that the potential change of standards would make it more difficult for NI producers – who, under the NI agreement, are forced to apply EU rules for exports – to compete in the British market. Greater divergence would also create additional challenges for Sanitary and Phytosanitary checks at the ports.