Northern Ireland news

Calls for Charter NI funding freeze as leading loyalist refuses to resign

DUP councillor Sharon Skillen, loyalist Dee Stitt, First Minister Arlene Foster, Charter NI chairman Drew Haire and project manager Caroline Birch at the announcement last month that Charter NI was to receive £1.7 million in public money.

THERE were calls last night for funding for Charter NI to be suspended until a review of the east Belfast community organisation is carried out.

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon said the Executive Office must withhold £1.7m for an employability project until "a full and independent review is conducted into how the organisation is governed and organised".

She was speaking after Charter NI issued a statement backing its chief executive Dee Stitt, despite senior DUP members claiming he had resigned as head of the organisation.

The alleged UDA commander has been come under increasing pressure to stand aside over claims that the paramilitary group in north Down is still involved in criminality.

He was also criticised for an interview with the Guardian newspaper in which he talked about loyalist band North Down Defenders providing "homeland security" and said the British government don't give a "f**king f**k" about loyalist communities.

Both Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson have said in separate interviews that they understood Stitt was to stand down as chief executive of Charter NI, but the Irish News revealed last week that the Bangor loyalist was resisting pressure to leave his £35,000 a year post.

Charter NI have since backed Stitt, saying he had "expressed sincere apologies" to the organisation's board for his "lack of judgement".

They said they would continue to "support our chief executive" and that they were "addressing the matter internally" .

The statement said that Stitt would continue to oversee the work of Charter NI as it "achieves continued success through positive project outcomes".

Nichola Mallon said yesterday that both Stitt's conduct and the response of Charter NI were "unacceptable".

"The chief executive should be gone, funding should be suspended and an independent review of its governance conducted before a single penny of public funds is granted to Charter NI," she said.

"The continued wall of silence and lack of action from the first and deputy first ministers in response to CEO Dee Stitt's conduct, given the fact that they have just awarded his organisation £1.7m in public money, is totally unacceptable.

"If funding is not suspended, the first and deputy first ministers are sending a clear message that the comments of this organisation's CEO and the inaction of its board in response is good enough."

The Executive Office said last night it "funds organisations, not individuals, and takes stewardship of public money very seriously".

"A rigorous and robust process is in place, in relation to all Social Investment Fund projects, to ensure the capability of lead partners and delivery organisations to effectively and efficiently manage public money and the projects prior to any funding commitments being made.

“Continuous monitoring is ongoing for the duration of any funding award which includes monthly vouching and verification of all spend, monthly monitoring of project delivery and budgets through formal project boards and on site governance and financial checks on funded organisations."

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