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DUP minister halts construction work on Brexit inspection posts at NI ports

DUP minister for agriculture Gordon Lyons has also stopped any further recruitment of inspection staff.

Gordon Lyons leaves Stormont Castle in January 2020.
Gordon Lyons leaves Stormont Castle in January 2020.
Image: Liam McBurney

NORTHERN IRELAND’S AGRICULTURE Minister has halted construction of permanent inspection facilities for post-Brexit checks on agri-foods arriving from Great Britain.

DUP minister Gordon Lyons has also stopped further recruitment of inspection staff for the port facilities and ordered an end to charges levied at the ports on traders bringing goods from GB into Northern Ireland.

The SDLP has called for an emergency Executive meeting following Agriculture Minister’s “unilateral” decision.

Lyons’s decision relates to ongoing work on new purpose-built inspection facilities at ports like Belfast and Larne. Ongoing Irish-Sea trade checks, which are taking place at existing repurposed port buildings and other temporary facilities, will continue.

“This is in and around a number of areas, first of all further infrastructure, any further infrastructure builds; the additional recruitment of staff; and also the charging at the ports,” he said.

The decisions come amid the ongoing controversy over disruption caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which implements Brexit trade rules that avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

Unionists are unhappy at the Protocol’s requirement for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

They claim it has driven an economic wedge between the region and Great Britain, and has undermined the Union as a result.

Lyons said his move was in response to the “practical difficulties” caused by the Protocol.

He cited uncertainty over the movement of goods once grace periods – currently waiving other Protocol checks – end on 1 April. The UK government has requested an extension of these grace periods from the European Commission.

Both sides are in discussions with one another to find solutions to make the Protocol work for effectively.

Lyons said:

We don’t know what the movement of retail goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland is going to look like, we don’t have the support in place through the digital assistance scheme yet either, and all of the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) issues around the end of the grace period are just so uncertain and it’s real nightmare for us and it’s going to be causing us an awful lot of problems.

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SDLP leader and MP Colum Eastwood said that the DUP cannot “pick and choose” which duties and obligations of Executive leadership it wants to adhere to.

“It is deeply concerning that DUP Ministers are actively trying to sabotage the arrangements and inject further uncertainty into a difficult situation for local businesses to suit their own narrow political interests.” 

SDLP deputy leader and Stormont’s Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said:

“This is a five party Executive facing two significant crises – a global pandemic and the impact of Brexit. We should be taking decisions together in the substantial common interests of the people we represent – not using political office for divisive stunts

This decision is controversial, cross-cutting and cannot be put into effect without Executive agreement.

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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