Inspectors to return to work at Northern Irish ports after disputed Brexit threat claims – POLITICO

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DUBLIN — Food safety inspectors will return to Northern Ireland’s ports Wednesday, ending disruption caused by disputed claims of threats against workers operating EU customs controls.

The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture confirmed that its staff would return to duty at the ports of Belfast and Larne 10 days after they were withdrawn amid unconfirmed reports they were being targeted by so-called loyalist militants.

The department said it was permitting staff to return to duty following “a full threat assessment” from the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Police reported putting unspecified “mitigations” in place to reassure staff of their safety.

While the main British Protestant-backed party, the Democratic Unionists, still insists the threats were genuine, their Irish Catholic partner in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government accuses the DUP of making up or grossly exaggerating the claims.

Sinn Féin lawmaker John O’Dowd said the Democratic Unionists had peddled “half-truths, misinformation and erroneous information” as part of wider efforts to undermine enforcement of EU checks at Northern Ireland ports.

The withdrawal of staff was ordered by then-Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots, who stood down from his post within minutes of making the order on February 1. While the DUP attributed Poots’ swift departure to his ongoing battle with cancer, his own senior civil servant later told the Northern Ireland Assembly that Poots had twice dismissed police advice that no withdrawal of staff was necessary.

Northern Ireland’s police commander, Chief Constable Simon Byrne, said Monday that officers had found no evidence of an organized campaign against port staff.

O’Dowd called for “an investigation as to why this issue came to light.”

“It had to be traumatic for those workers to be told they were under threat, to have to go home and tell their families, ‘We are under threat,’ when no such threat existed,” he said. “Why were those families put through that trauma?”

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