The potential for religious discrimination at a vehicle licensing agency in Northern Ireland could be removed by moving the 300 jobs to Wales, a Government consultation paper has claimed.
The claim has been branded bizarre and insulting by stunned unionist and nationalist politicians.
As part of an official consultation on switching the posts from the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) offices in Coleraine, Co Londonderry, to the main Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) base in Swansea, the impact of the move in relation to religion was assessed.
The consultation expresses confidence that the proposals will have a neutral impact on religious groups in Northern Ireland – even though more than 300 people could lose their jobs.
It then adds: "Furthermore, centralisation at the DVLA will in fact remove any possibility that NI services may be biased to any particular religious group since these transactions will no longer be serviced by staff based in NI, who could themselves hold particular beliefs."
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said he was "absolutely amazed" with the reference to religious discrimination, branding it "outrageous".
"Hundreds of DOE (Department of the Environment) staff in Coleraine face a very anxious time with the real threat of jobs being lost," said the SDLP minister.
"To propose to transfer their jobs from Coleraine to Swansea is very painful. This reference to removing possible discrimination has added insult to injury for staff in DVA.
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: "It is a bizarre reason or rationale to try and justify closure."
In response, a DVLA spokesman said:
"There is no truth in the suggestion that the consultation on Northern Ireland services implies that DVA staff may be biased in the way they deliver services.
"The consultation document clearly outlines both the benefits and impacts of the proposals. The impact assessment published alongside the consultation also outlines other options that have been considered.
"Comments have been invited on these documents as well as on the consultation document itself. No decision about the proposals in the consultation will be taken until all responses received have been considered."