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TUV man admits vote to remove Larne port staff was influenced by NI Protocol

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TUV councillor Timothy Gaston

TUV councillor Timothy Gaston

TUV councillor Timothy Gaston

A TUV councillor has admitted the Northern Ireland Protocol played a part in his decision to vote to remove staff conducting Brexit checks from Larne Port.

Timothy Gaston said that while his primary concern was the safety of staff, he also took the opportunity to do the right thing for "the bigger picture of unionism".

A row has erupted over the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council's unanimous vote to remove staff working at the port earlier this month. On February 1 staff were withdrawn from inspection duties over "concerns for their safety and welfare" following "an upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour".

Graffiti threatening port officials carrying out checks under the protocol, intended to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, has appeared across Northern Ireland.

The protocol has angered unionists who believe that by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with EU trade rules, it has cut it off from the rest of the UK.

Police later said they had found no evidence of "credible threats" against port staff and they returned to their posts.

On Monday, councillors debated an Alliance Party motion around "discrepancies" in the information provided to the council and called for an investigation. The proposal was defeated by 26 votes to 11, with one abstention.

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Sinn Fein MLA Phillip McGuigan accused the DUP and the TUV of using the issue of staff safety "as a pawn in the bigger political game".

"There's something very, very fishy about the timing of this decision and the nature of this decision," the North Antrim MLA told the BBC.

Mr McGuigan said there were "very serious questions" around "whether this was a political decision made in the interests of a bigger political agenda by unionism as opposed to the safety of Mid and East Antrim council staff".

TUV representative Mr Gaston said he had asked a local Policing and Community Safety Partnership meeting about threats to staff ahead of the vote. He said there was "nothing that caused me any concern" in a senior officer's response and that he raised this in the council chamber before the vote was taken to remove staff.

"First and foremost the safety of the staff is paramount and the main focus," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "But even though I had concerns about the legitimacy of the information we were given, I certainly took the opportunity to show that the staff could be removed. The element of that I want the staff out anyway certainly rested my decision.

"If the shoe was on the other foot in a different scenario I would have still voted to remove the staff, because if there was still safety concerns they needed to be addressed."

The TUV councillor said he would be in favour of the permanent removal of staff to bring the issues around the protocol "to a head politically".

"I would have far rather we took that decision on the political will of the chamber because of the protocol to withdraw the staff," Mr Gaston said.

"I feel unionist councillors on any of the councils that have a port and have staff implementing the protocol should be looking to take that action and it's something we are exploring."

Belfast Telegraph


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