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'Lack of clarity' around Brexit border checks at ports, MLAs told

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A lorry leaving Warrenpoint Port, Newry (Brian Lawless/PA)

A lorry leaving Warrenpoint Port, Newry (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

A lorry leaving Warrenpoint Port, Newry (Brian Lawless/PA)

MLAs have been told of a “lack of clarity” around what - if any - border checks will be required in Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period.

The comments were made by Department for Infrastructure (DfI) director of gateways and EU relations Jackie Robinson at a meeting of a Stormont committee on Wednesday.

Members were given a departmental briefing on the current situation surrounding Brexit.

Mrs Robinson told committee members that if checks were required they would be carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the Home Office and HMRC depending on their nature.

“It will be up to them to make assessment on what space they would require at ports and facilitate that,” the EU relations director said.

Mrs Robinson said there would be ongoing engagement to inform the ports and businesses on any checks that are required.

The DfI’s Jim Sutherland said in terms of new infrastructure for checks at Northern Ireland’s ports Warrenpoint harbour would be the only port that could have difficulties in expanding.

“Belfast and Larne are capable of having specific space to allow the facilities to be developed” he said.

He said the Scottish port of Cairnryan would experience similar challenges to Warrenpoint with discussions around contingency plans already underway.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs said the most important thing was to ensure perishable goods did not suffer “undue delay” due to any checks.

Mrs Robinson replied that while it was a matter for DAERA decisions could only be made after they got clarity on what checks would need to be carried out.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly asked what impact a failed “Brexit day bomb” had on security matter. Last week police exposed a plot where a bomb was to be placed in a lorry intending to travel from Belfast to Scotland on a ferry on the day the UK left the EU.

The bomb was eventually discovered on February 5 inside a lorry on the Silverwood Industrial Estate in Lurgan.

Mrs Robinson said that officials at all levels were involved in a series of cross-departmental talks including the Department of Justice, PSNI and Border Force, but that she could not go into details.

In relation to car insurance, DfI’s Donald Starritt said officials were working on the basis that green cards would be needed for UK drivers on the roads within the EU, including the Republic of Ireland.

However he said that the UK has applied for membership of the ‘green card free-circulation zone’ which would be “business as usual”.

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan said that while he “appreciated it’s early days” the Assembly only had nine months to get its Brexit preparations right.

He said that constituents were pushing their representatives for answers.

Mrs Robinson said that civil servants had been working for the last three years in “very difficult circumstances”, while Mr Sutherland said he felt the establishment of the Assembly’s Brexit Committee would be an effective way to “centralise conversations” around the different aspects of leaving the EU.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir expressed concern around “the lack of clarity” and warned “the clock is ticking down”.

Mrs Robinson said the DfI were very conscious of that, saying “negotiations are due to start very soon and we hope the fog will start to lift”, however she admitted that the “outworkings may take some time”.

Belfast Telegraph