Stormont Executive accused of failing to stand up to paramilitaries

Chief Constable George Hamilton 
Gareth McKeown

THE Stormont Executive have been accused of being "afraid to stand up" to paramilitaries after a second senior police officer highlighted links to people connected to Charter NI.  

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin last week said individuals linked to the east Belfast community group have been involved in recent paramilitary activity.

Speaking after a meeting with First Minister Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Justice Minister Claire Sugden on Monday, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton backed his colleague.

"At an operational and community level Charter NI do some very meaningful and positive work. However, it remains our view that an individual or individuals connected to that organisation continue to be associated with paramilitarism," he said.

"On the ground and at a local level across many parts of Northern Ireland, the PSNI will continue to work with community groups who have a positive contribution to make.

"However, where we have evidence that individuals are involved in criminality we will investigate, seek to gather evidence and where appropriate report to the PPS."

Charter NI has received £1.7m from the Executive's Social Investment Fund but its chief executive Dee Stitt, an alleged UDA commander, has resisted calls to stand down.

Following the meeting an Executive Office spokesperson said Ministers were assured by the PSNI that it has "no concerns about the work of Charter NI".

"We have made clear that where there is any evidence of criminal activity, police should investigate thoroughly and bring those responsible before the courts. Courts and jail are the only place for anyone involved in paramilitarism.

"We have also emphasised that any individuals associated with Charter NI or any community enterprise must make a clear choice between paramilitarism and legitimate community work. There can be no acceptance of or ambivalence towards illegal activity."

However, the Executive position was criticised by SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon who claimed it was "afraid" to stand up to paramilitaries.

"For the second time in a matter of days the PSNI, at the most senior level, has been very clear that individuals connected to Charter NI are active paramilitaries.

"The Executive Office's statement following a meeting with the Chief Constable on this issue seems intent on continuing to play this reality down. Alarmingly the DUP and Sinn Fein, at the highest level, are either content to back these individual paramilitaries or afraid to stand up to them."

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