Northern Ireland news

Calls for Charter funding to be suspended after police confirm members' UDA links

Loyalist Dee Stitt has come under pressure to resign as chief executive of Charter NI

THERE have been calls for funding to Charter NI to be suspended after a senior police officer linked some members to paramilitary activity in the last year.

Alleged UDA commander Dee Stitt has been resisting calls to step down as chief executive of the east Belfast community group, which was awarded £1.7 million of Social Investment Fund (SIF) money earlier this year.

Its board has continued to back the CEO in his position, despite Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joining those saying he should step aside.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin told Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Friday that while Charter as an organisation does good work, "clearly there are connections within that organisation to the UDA".

"I would believe certainly that there maybe an individual or individuals linked to Charter who have certainly been recently active."

It is believed that the Executive Office had already received a private briefing from police about the activities of the UDA in north Down.

Chairman of Charter NI Drew Haire said on Friday they had asked for a meeting with the PSNI to discuss the allegations, saying he was "worried and concerned for organisation".

"We wouldn't want anyone to form the view that we do not take the whole issue seriously," said Mr Haire.

"There are good people doing good work, our first concern as a board is that's recognised.

"I have already placed a call to police headquarters to arrange a meeting with the PSNI to discuss what was said.

"We don't support or condone any illegal activity of any kind. If it is proven there is illegal activity taking place then obviously the board members will consider their position".

The Executive Office said the comments by ACC Martin were "not insignificant".

"Where there is evidence of criminal activity, we expect the police to investigate and bring those responsible before the courts. Courts and jail are the only place for anyone involved in paramilitarism," it said.

"All those associated with Charter 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.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the "penny seems to have finally dropped with the Executive".

"I`m glad to hear that they have finally caught up with what I said a number of weeks ago, that this was a stand-off between democracy and paramilitarism and that there needed to be a line in the sand."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said it was "now essential that the Executive Office suspends all payments to Charter".

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon also said the First and Deputy First Ministers must "provide an urgent and comprehensive response" to the security assessment.

"We are reiterating our call, first made several weeks ago, for the suspension of funding to Charter NI pending an independent review into its governance arrangements."

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said was seeking a meeting with the PSNI to discuss the comments.

“It’s important to acknowledge that legitimate community organisations and community activists make a huge contribution to society.

“It is unfortunate that their efforts are being overshadowed by the criminality and paramilitary activity of a tiny number of people.

“Therefore I will be urging the PSNI to ensure that where there is any evidence of criminal activity they do all in their power to bring those responsible before the courts."

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