Mid and East Antrim’s port staff withdrawal meeting minutes published
Mid and East Antrim council minutes have stated that chief executive Anne Donaghy “did not know the source of the threat” to council staff at the port of Larne and had “no way of finding out other than through the PSNI”.
The document has been published on the council website ahead of ratification at a meeting of the authority on Monday evening.
Alliance has described the failure of a motion brought before a special meeting last Monday evening in a bid to secure an inquiry into events surrounding the withdrawal of council staff from the port of Larne as “a disappointing day for openness and transparency”.
Twelve environmental health workers were temporarily removed from inspection checks at the port of Larne over concerns for their security after threatening graffiti appeared in the town.
The minutes said that at a meeting of group party leaders earlier that day, there had been “unanimous support across the parties to withdraw council staff with immediate effect until a full and formal PSNI threat assessment and council risk assessment could be completed”.
The report gave a “summary of allegations” to councillors including the appearance of graffiti during the previous fortnight “indicating that border post staff were targets”, and noted “concerns over unconfirmed reports of threatening and intimidating actions including the recording of number plates” and whether there was “evidence of who was behind this activity”.
The report noted that the chief executive was “very unclear to the exact position” of this information.
“When it was raised with the minister, DAERA officials had subsequently been advised that if they could work from home, they didn’t have to go to the port to work,” it said.
The report went on to say that the “chief executive informed that a major union had requested a renewed risk assessment and that as head of the staff, she considered that a revised risk assessment was essential to review and clarify the situation and she had requested a formal threat assessment from the PSNI”.
She said that she was seeking assurance from the PSNI as to the “level of the threat, who would be behind any threat and the credibility of any threat”.
The report stated: “The chief executive advised that this was all she knew and the fact that she did not know everything was part of the reason why the threat assessment and subsequent risk assessment were so critical.”
She said that a “better safe than sorry approach was important in relation to staff as she has a low threshold for risk when it came to staff safety”.
The report continued: “Cllr (Gregg) McKeen recalled the past when council had pulled staff out of other areas there there was a threat or a perceived threat against them.”
He stated that “council had to stand over the staff and do likewise in the situation” and proposed withdrawing staff until “such a time it was deemed safe for them to return or for other ways to be found for the work to be carried out”.
The report continued: “Cllr (Danny) Donnelly agreed that it was wise to assess the level of the threat and that council must do all it could to keep its staff safe.
“Ald Mulvenna commended the chief executive for acting proactively by calling the group party leaders’ meeting earlier that day which reflected the seriousness of the situation.”
Bannside TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston reportedly stated that “council should take a stand and say that they would not put their employees at risk over the Irish Sea border and that the minister and DAERA and the Prime Minister should sort it out.”
The report went on to say that Sinn Fein Coast Road Cllr James McKeown “condemned the threats and noted that a similar discussion would be taking place at Belfast City Council in relation to threats made at Belfast port”.
“He echoed Cllr Donnelly’s sentiments that public representatives needed to be responsible in any comments made about the ongoing situation in relation to the ports,” the report said.
“He stated that it also highlighted the lack of action from the PSNI over the last number of years in relation to gangs in East Antrim. He wondered if the issue had been brought up with the Secretary of State and representatives of the UDA at the meeting the previous week.”
The report added: “The Mayor said he appreciated Cllr McKeown’s questions but that it was not fair to ask the last one of the chief executive as she would not have been privy to that meeting.”
Independent Ballymena Cllr Rodney Quigley asked the chief executive if paramilitaries were involved and if this had been confirmed by the PSNI.
The report went on to give the chief executive’s answers to these questions noting: “In reference to paramilitaries, she informed that she did not know the source of the threat.
“She reiterated that the reason why a formal PSNI threat assessment was being requested was that she did not know and had no other way of finding out other than through the PSNI.
“She advised that she did know that the situation had initially been accredited to young people but that had changed and the messages received had been extremely mixed.
“As she did not have the answers, she believed that a better safe than sorry approach should be taken.
“She advised that the PSNI had added two extra patrol cars over the previous weekend and ensured that there were additional cameras at the port.”
The report concluded that the Mayor had praised members on the “unity displayed in relation to the 12 officers and senior officers’ safety”.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
Click here to read: Larne port council staff removal inquiry motion falls
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