Threats? What threats? That is the question on a lot of minds as scepticism continues to grow about recent claims of intimidation against local officials in the port of Larne and the city of Belfast who were working, however tangentially, on administrating the so-called Irish Sea border between Ireland and the post-Brexit United Kingdom. As the well-informed political correspondent Sam McBride notes for the regional News Letter, a decidedly hardline pro-union publication, most of the allegations of imminent violence directed at UK and European Union employees seems to have come from the Democratic Unionist Party. The chief opponent of the regulatory frontier agreed between Brussels and London under the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
[On Monday] news emerged that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council – on which the DUP is the largest party – had suddenly withdrawn its staff from the border post in Larne because of graffiti describing them as “targets”. Shortly after that, the DUP said that Edwin Poots, its minister responsible for most of the new border checks, was resigning at midnight to have surgery for cancer.
That news was rapidly followed not only by the announcement that prior to leaving office Mr Poots had withdrawn his staff from the Larne and Belfast checks, but by a claim from loyalist Jamie Bryson that Mrs Foster had tried to stop Mr Poots from taking that action and removed him from office against his will.
…it is now clear that Mr Poots’ decision that evening was far more political than was apparent at the time. The graffiti had appeared 11 days earlier but there does not appear to have been any particular concern from police that it represented an immediate threat to lives. But by last Sunday – two days after the EU moved to trigger Article 16 of the NI Protocol to control vaccines exports – Mr Poots phoned his most senior official, Denis McMahon, to express concern for the safety of the staff.
Mr Poots, who six months ago briefly flirted with ordering his officials not to operate the border before backing down… On Monday night, just hours before he left office, Mr Poots again rang Mr McMahon to ask for the staff to be withdrawn from Belfast and Larne ports…
Therefore, remarkably, the security assessment did not come from the police but came from Mr Poots.
Subsequently, the police have stressed that they do not believe the graffiti was linked to paramilitaries.
Mr Poots did not stop the checks as a point of political principle, but explicitly because of the threat, creating the danger that further threats are inadvertently encouraged.
Or not so inadvertently. The dubious sequence of events outlined by Sam McBride has been confirmed by other sources, though the British and pro-British media has been remarkably silent on the controversy, preferring to hype up notions of unionist insurrectionists taking to the streets to protest their loss of privilege in what has long ceased to be Britain’s politically and culturally monolithic rump colony on the island of Ireland. Despite the DUP’s best efforts to make it otherwise through their enthusiasm for the empire-revivalism of Brexit.
In fact the allegations of terrorist threats against innocent port workers seems to be collapsing day by day, as the Irish Times reports:
Trade unions have denied raising concerns about suspicious activity at port checks ahead of a council’s decision to withdraw staff from the inspection posts.
Mid and East Antrim Council withdrew environmental health workers from facilities at Larne Port on Monday night. The move came after threatening graffiti directed at those carrying out new checks on goods arriving from Britain.
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 have blamed the graffiti and menacing online comments on disgruntled individuals and small groups.
Officers have characterised the incidents as “low level” and have insisted there is no evidence of wider paramilitary involvement in threats. They said there was nothing to substantiate claims of number-plate details being gathered.
The three unions representing the council workers, Nipsa, GMB and Unite, have now denied making the claims referenced by Mr Johnson.
Council staff returned to work on Friday after the council examined a formal threat assessment report by the Police Service of Northern Ireland…
What began in a flurry of fear at the start of the week is rapidly beginning to look like some well-timed political opportunism by a faction of the Democratic Unionists hoping to startle the bulk of the party into a second stab at erecting a Brexit frontier around the Six Counties, with the connivance of like-minded allies in Britain. And with little concern for the long-term consequences of a return to a “hard partition” on the island of Ireland. As for the political and rhetorical tactics they are prepared to employ to achieve that objective, as was pointed out during the bloody years of the Troubles, when it came to murder and mayhem loyalist gunmen may have pulled the triggers but it was unionist politicians who pointed the guns. And none were more practiced in that behavior than the DUP.
To borrow a well-worn political phrase, they haven’t gone away y’know.