CUSTOMS CHECKS in Northern Ireland ports have been temporarily suspended over security concerns.
Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) have confirmed they have suspended Brexit checks and removed council staff from ports in Larne and Belfast due to concerns about their welfare.
The decision comes after the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSN) warned of 'sinister and menacing behaviour' from individuals regarding the controversial checks, including threatening graffiti and some individuals seen taking down car registration numbers.
RTÉ News reports that twelve Mid and East Antrim Borough Council staff, who were assisting border officials with physical checks at the ports, have been removed from their positions with immediate effect.
Documentary checks on items sch as animal products will go ahead as normal, the DAERA said in a statement.
Threats have appeared in the form of graffiti close to the ports, with one such graffiti labelling those working in customs checks as "targets", and the council has said that this has caused "extreme stress and worry to staff".
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Peter Johnston, said there was a "notable upping of community tensions" in recent days regarding the NI Protocol, a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which leaves Northern Ireland following some EU rules in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic.
Mr Johnston said staff will not return to work performing physical checks "until we have very real assurances and full confidence that they can go about their duties without fear, threat or concern for their wellbeing".
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr condemned the threats but said the NI Protocol was "bound to cause problems" and urged the British Government to invoke Article 16, which, if invoked from the British side, would see no checks from Northern Ireland into Britain.
The EU threatened to invoke Article 16 last week amid a row about vaccines, but was quickly forced into a U turn following outrage from Dublin, Belfast and London.
Article 16 was supposed to represent a last resort.
The agreement signed by the UK and EU stated it would only be used when the protocol is in danger of leading to serious "economic, societal or environmental difficulties".
It serves as a way to avoid difficulties, allowing the UK or EU to act unilaterally. It offers an emergency option for when the two sides fail to agree a joint approach on a particular issue.