Animal and food safety checks have been paused and police have increased their presence at Northern Ireland’s ports due to growing tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Concerns over the safety of staff working at Larne and Belfast ports have led to the suspension of checks on products, after graffiti appeared in some loyalist areas in protest at the Irish Sea border.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) will meet with councillors and government officials today to discuss threats to workers.
Why were staff thought to be at risk?
The Mayor of Larne, Peter Johnson from the DUP, said that “menacing behaviour” had prompted Mid and East Antrim Council to withdraw staff from inspection duties.
He also revealed that staff involved with checks had expressed fears over “suspicious activity”.
In a statement, the council described an “upsurge in sinister behaviour”, with graffiti describing staff working at ports as “targets”. The council also revealed that it believed attempts were being made to gather the personal information of workers.
The PSNI tweeted to say the staff safety is “of the utmost importance'' and that “appropriate action” will be taken where needed.
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said: "On the basis of information received today and, pending further discussions with the PSNI, Daera has decided in the interests of the wellbeing of staff to temporarily suspend physical inspections of products of animal origin at Larne and Belfast.
"The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual."
‘All threats must be condemned’
Group party leader for Sinn Fein, councillor James McKeown, said: "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 DUP MP for East Antrim, Sammy Wilson, wants to see the NI protocol removed, but said that “politics is the way".
He added: "All threats must be condemned and cross party support for withdrawal is welcome.
"Those parties who talked up the threat of violence during the negotiations need to reflect”.
Why are border checks on goods needed?
Facilities in Northern Ireland for checking certain imports from other parts of the UK were necessitated by the Brexit deal.
As of the end of the Brexit transition period at the start of this year, food and live animals must be inspected at the border to Northern Ireland, as it remains in the single market, whereas the rest of the UK is not.
While most goods can move freely between countries in the single market, goods being brought into the single market from outside it are subject to checks.