A DUP attempt to stop Belfast Council funding for Brexit Protocol checks has failed, after being voted down and its legality being questioned.
At a meeting of Belfast City Council ’s People and Communities Committee this week, a proposal by DUP Councillor Sarah Bunting to end council funding for new council Port Health IT systems was described as 'not competent' by the city solicitor and a request to defer a report recommending updated systems was voted down.
It came the day before the UK Supreme Court in London deemed the Northern Ireland Protocol lawful, after unionist politicians challenged it, claiming it breached the Act of Union and the Northern Ireland Act.
As well as staff appointed from Stormont, border posts employ local authority environmental health staff, from Belfast City Council at the Belfast port, and from Mid and East Antrim Council in Larne.
The matter was raised by the DUP at City Hall in relation to a report before the council committee mentioning a review on IT requirements “to support NI Protocol implementation and service functionality.”
Councillor Bunting told the committee: “We did note under the performance theme there are a number of actions supporting the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. We believe that some of the work that has been undertaken is quite possibly premature considering the ongoing negotiations between the UK government and the EU.
“I notice as yet there is no sustainable funding model for the Port Health Service. I don’t think anybody will be surprised to know we don’t support the implementation of the protocol, but we also believe that Belfast ratepayers should not be paying for this implementation. So we propose that all work undertaken by this council to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol ceases until agreement is reached by the UK and the EU.”
Green Party Councillor Anthony Flynn asked for confirmation from council officers that the money for the checks came from the Food Standards Agency and not city ratepayers. The officer replied: “The funding comes directly from New Port Activity, from a mix, mostly the Food Standards Agency but also DAERA. It covers all of our activity down at the port.”
SDLP Councillor Séamas de Faoite said: “I would have deep concerns that this committee or the council may be accused of failing its obligations on health or environmental health concerns. I say that as a former chair of the Brexit Committee, where we had significant briefings about our responsibilities as a council in relation to maintaining standards coming in through the port.
“We have to be really careful here that we are not putting ourselves in a position that we risk the safety of people in Belfast for a political decision like this.”
City Solicitor Nora Largey said of the DUP proposal: “In my view it is not a competent proposal in the sense that the council has obligations regarding the NI Protocol, and that has been confirmed by the High Court.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Garrett proposed the committee noted, and therefore accepted, the council report, amending a DUP proposal to defer the report. The Sinn Féin proposal was passed with 11 votes in favour, and three votes against from the DUP.
The report states: “We have reviewed and updated IT system mapping work in preparation for engagement with stakeholders to consider the wider systems approach needed for delivery of regulatory functions at Points of Entry and NI Protocol.
“The need for systems integration to address business process inefficiencies remains an ongoing challenge. Further work is required in quarter three and quarter four to achieve desired efficiencies and streamlining of business processes. A workshop with the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency is planned in quarter four on a one system/IT and inspection application for NI.”