James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Two arrested over Brexit graffiti at Northern Ireland port
7 February 2021, 20:42
Two men have been arrested on suspicion of painting graffiti condemning Irish Sea border checks as a result of Brexit.
Slogans and signs have been fixed on buildings in and around Larne Port in the past week and disputed allegations suggest port staff's car number plates were being noted by people hanging around the area.
Police received reports of two males at around 9.40pm on Saturday spraying graffiti on property on Main Street in the port town.
Slogans were painted at various locations in the town on Saturday, one stating "Larne says no to Irish Sea Border".
Officers responded to the report and located two males in the area of Main Street.
Police searched a vehicle in the area and a number of items were seized and taken away for examination.
Officers subsequently arrested two men in the Church Road area of Larne on suspicion of offences, including criminal damage and possessing of an article with intent to damage property.
They both remained in custody on Sunday evening.
Police are also investigating further reports of graffiti in the town on Point Street, Bank Road and Redlands Road.
Inspections at Belfast and Larne ports were suspended last Monday amid concerns over the safety of staff.
That came after separate graffiti appeared last month threatening port staff.
Officials from Mid and East Antrim Council, Stormont's Department of Agriculture and the EU Commission all stopped working at the facilities, which conduct checks required as part of Brexit's controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.
Environmental health staff from Mid and East Antrim Council returned to their duties at Larne Port on Friday. It has not been confirmed when the other officials, who work at both Larne and Belfast, might return to work.
Trade unions have denied raising concerns about suspicious activity at Larne port checks ahead of the council's decision to withdraw staff.
Announcing the decision on Monday, DUP mayor Peter Johnson cited "serious concerns" raised by trade unions over "increasing suspicious activity" including the recording of number plate details of staff members.
Police later insisted there was nothing to substantiate claims of number plate details being gathered.
The three unions representing the council workers - Nipsa, GMB and Unite - have denied making the claims referenced by Mr Johnson.
TUS secretary Alan Law, on behalf of the three unions, wrote to Mr Johnson asking him to withdraw his comments.
It is understood the council did receive correspondence from a union representative prior to the withdrawal of staff that referenced members being threatened via graffiti and "potentially other methods".
The correspondence did not make reference to number plate gathering.
On Sunday, the council issued a statement in response to the unions' concerns about Mr Johnson's comments.
"The health, safety and well-being of our staff remains our top priority and our threshold for risk when it comes to our staff is very low.
"On Monday 1 February, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was made aware of correspondence to Council's HR department from a major trade union setting out their concerns.
"Mid and East Antrim Borough Council staff returned to their inspection duties at Larne Port on Friday evening following the completion of a PSNI threat assessment and subsequent risk assessment by the Council.
"We continue to update our risk assessment in partnership with the PSNI, and correspond with the trade unions accordingly."