‘Counter-terrorism’ moves ... on Rathlin

COUNTER-terrorism training is being given to Moyle Council staff in connection with cruise ships dropping off passengers in Rathlin and Ballycastle.

And special ‘holding pens’ have to be put in place to process visitors, shocked councillors in Ballycastle were told.

The controversial moves have been forced on Moyle Council - who control the harbours - by central government as part of measures to make UK ports fully compliant with cruise ships docking.

Moyle Council also has to have in place a port security plan and the holding area has to be security swept before the ships arrive, Moyle Council official Aidan McPeake added.

The security training will cost £1,300 but after that additional staff members can be trained in-house.

Measures were put in place when a cruise ship laid anchor off Rathlin in recent weeks.

Councillors reluctantly agreed to adopt the new moves but are complaining to central government that the tough measures could deter tourists.

Mr McPeake stressed that the developments were put in place above the heads of Moyle Council and it was important not to point the finger at local staff on the ground.

Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent) said the moves were unfortunate and said the mere mention of ‘counter-terrorism’ would inevitably cause fear in some people.

“How unfortunate it is that government agencies seem to sit about all day designing mechanisms to try and put tourists off,” he added.

Ulster Unionist councillor Joan Baird said the moves were “outrageous” and she felt the government was trying to stop illegal immigration but she didn’t believe such people would try to get in through a cruise ship.

“I can’t see how Ballycastle and Rathlin can be so ‘suspect’ that we have to put them (passengers) into some sort of holding pen like cattle.”

She said Scottish Islands have complained about the moves and said Moyle should raise it with central government and the council agreed.

Cllr Donal Cunningham (SDLP) said the operation on Rathlin recently was done with a “very light touch” and passports were sorted out onboard and basically passengers were just counted off and counted on again.