Agri-food customs posts required in Northern Ireland (NI) have cost more than £24.4 million to staff in their first year.

The total was revealed in a response by Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots, during his most recent Minister’s Questions session.

Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan asked Minister Poots how much it had cost the department to staff its posts at the ports.

Responding, Poots said: “We have developed, since June 2020, the costs over the last year. The cost for vets, including managers, is £5,271,696. The cost for the other ancillary staff provided by DAERA is £6,324,902. The cost of the environmental health officers and ancillary staff provided by the councils is £12,848,034. That brings us to a total of £24,444,632.”

DAERA permanent secretary Denis McMahon had previously warned around a fifth of EU documentary checks on goods are now carried out in Northern Ireland. McMahon said staff were carrying out around 2,000 checks a week – a figure that was likely to increase significantly at the end of the Grace Period.

The checks are required as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which requires certification on agri-food goods moving between Britain and the EU, as well as Northern Ireland.

Buchanan said Poots’ figures were “staggering”.

“And we have only just commenced with this process,” he said. Before going on to ask the minister what steps he was taking to improve the situation.

“…Of course, when the Grace Period ends, those costs will spiral considerably, because we will move to what the department suggests will be some 15,000 checks per week, which is considerably greater than what we do currently. Those costs will absolutely spiral,” Poots said.

“Meanwhile, the European Union says that we need to pass those costs on to businesses. Do you know who pays when we pass the costs on to businesses? The consumers.”

Poots said the protocol was doing “fundamental damage to every single person in Northern Ireland and that will continue to do fundamental damage to every single person in Northern Ireland if it remains unchecked”.

“Therefore, I will continue to press the UK Government hard on the issues that are at stake here, and I have the benefit of knowing that the case is unarguable — this protocol is bad for Northern Ireland,” he said.