Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture has reportedly ordered staff to stop construction work on permanent inspection facilities at the region’s ports.

Checks have been in place on agri-food produce moving from Britain to Northern Ireland since the Brexit transition period ended on January 1.

However, as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol, goods from Northern Ireland are able to flow freely from Northern Ireland to Britain as well as into Europe.

Inspection posts

Plans were submitted for permanent border inspection posts at Larne, Warrenpoint and Belfast ports late last year with the 7.4ac site at Larne set to include an area for livestock and horses.

Temporary facilities were set up to allow checks to be made until work was completed on the permanent facilities.

However, the sites have already become the subject of controversy, with both Mid and East Antrim Council and the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland pulling customs staff from their posts after amid apparent concern for their safety.

There have since been allegations, however, that no genuine threat existed and the Northern Ireland Agriculture Committee has agreed to investigate the matter.

Staff are now back to work but issues remain – particularly for importers of livestock and horticultural products.

Tonight’s announcement by the Agriculture Minister marks the latest turn of events.

DAERA Minister Gordon Lyons told Press Association this evening (February 26): “I’ve just let executive colleagues know that today I instructed my department to halt work on a range of issues relating to work at the ports.

“First of all, further infrastructure, the additional recruitment of staff, and also the charging at the ports.”

It’s not the first time work on the inspection facilities has been stopped. Lyons’ predecessor Edwin Poots made a similar decision in September, with civil servants opting to continue work against his wishes.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has been contacted for a response.

More to follow.