Foster urged to distance herself from support of loyalist paramilitary body
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has faced calls to reject the pre-election endorsement of a body representing loyalist paramilitaries.
Sinn Fein urged the DUP to distance itself from the public support of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) after Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he did not want the backing of organisations still involved in paramilitarism.
The LCC, an umbrella group linked to the three main loyalist paramilitary groups - the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando - issued a statement on Monday urging voters to back DUP and UUP candidates in four battleground constituencies.
The LCC also heavily criticised the cross-community Alliance Party, claiming a vote for it would drive a "nail into the coffin of the Union".
Responding to the controversy around the LCC move, Mr Swann said on Tuesday: "The Ulster Unionist Party is a party of law and order.
"We have not asked for the support of paramilitary organisations nor do we want the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity."
Senior DUP representative Simon Hamilton said his party did not want the support of anyone engaged in paramilitary activity.
"Anybody who is involved in paramilitary or criminal activity we do not want your support, we do not want your vote on Thursday," he said.
Mr Hamilton insisted his party did not seek the endorsement of the LCC.
However, when pressed in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, he did not specifically reject its backing.
He credited the LCC with attempting to move paramilitaries away from violence.
"I acknowledge the work that the Loyalist Communities Council has been doing in trying to work with paramilitary organisations to try to take them away from their past - I think that is positive, that is something to be encouraged," he said.
Last week, a UDA-linked paramilitary feud claimed its latest victim when Carrickfergus man Colin Horner, 35, was shot dead in a supermarket car park in Bangor, Co Down.
Prior to the LCC statement, last week a newspaper produced by the Ulster Political Research Group, which is politically aligned with the UDA, publicly endorsed the DUP's candidate in south Belfast, Emma Pengelly.
Sinn Fein election candidate in the north of the city John Finucane, whose solicitor father Pat was murdered by the UDA in 1989, accused the DUP of "hypocrisy" on the issue of paramilitaries.
"I welcome the fact that UUP leader Robin Swann has today rejected their support but the ongoing failure of Arlene Foster to do the same speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the DUP," he said.
"The DUP like to claim they are the party of law and order but obviously not when it comes to courting the support of paramilitary groups which are still actively involved in violence, intimidation and murder as recently as last week.
"That is simply unacceptable. Arlene Foster needs to immediately reject the support of these organisations and make it clear they have no place in our society and should disband immediately."
Mr Hamilton branded Sinn Fein's criticism "ironic", given the party's links with the IRA.
DUP candidate in Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson said he rejected the endorsement of all paramilitary groups.
"I do not seek nor does the DUP seek the endorsement of any paramilitary organisation, we reject any such endorsement - I cannot be clearer than that," he told Radio Ulster.
"Let me be clear, I reject the endorsement and support of all paramilitary organisations - all means all."