Arlene Foster criticised after meeting UDA leader days after loyalist murder
ARLENE Foster has been criticised over meeting a UDA leader just days after a breakaway faction of the paramilitary organisation was linked to a brutal murder.
The DUP leader spoke with Jackie McDonald at a community office in the Taughmonagh area of south Belfast on Tuesday during canvassing ahead of next week's general election.
Speaking to The Irish News last night, the leading loyalist said the meeting wasn't planned.
"Arlene was canvassing in the area, talking to the residents and people here just love her, they are in awe of her and just wanted to meet her, but some of them were a bit shy so I just went along with them just to make an introduction," he said.
Mr McDonald said Sunday's murder of Colin Horner in a supermarket car park in Bangor was not discussed.
The South East Antrim UDA, which gunned down rival loyalist Geordie Gilmore in Carrickfergus in March of this year, has been blamed for the shooting.
"The UDA wasn't mentioned," he said.
"At this time, I'd say there are six or seven UDAs and no-one can answer or speak for anyone but themselves.
"There are people trying to move things along and we know that we need to let go of the past. Unfortunately there are some people stuck in the past who will never move on."
At the DUP's manifesto launch yesterday, Mrs Foster condemned the murder of Mr Horner and said the "UDA, the UVF and every paramilitary organisation should be out of existence".
Asked if she had communicated that message to Mr McDonald on Tuesday, she said: "I had no need to say it to Jackie McDonald.
"Jackie McDonald knows my views very, very clearly.
"If people want to move away from criminality, from terrorism, we will help them to do that but anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity should stop, should desist and if they don't they should be open to the full rigour of the law."
Mrs Foster said the horrific nature of Sunday's murder, in front of Mr Horner's three-year-old son, "will stay with that child for the rest of his young life".
The DUP leader has previously been criticised for being pictured next to alleged north Down UDA commander Dee Stitt.
Mr Stitt is chief executive of Charter NI, a community organisation that received £1.7m of public funding last year.
Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said it " beggars belief that only two days after the UDA murdered Colin Horner in Bangor that Arlene Foster did not challenge a senior UDA leader to disband the armed loyalist gang".
"The UDA has been involved in murders, pipe bombings, intimidation, arson, drug dealing and extortion over recent years," he said.
"There is a responsibility on all in political leadership to challenge the very existence of paramilitary groups.
"However, 20 years on since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, political unionism has so far failed to step up to the plate in facing down violent loyalist extremism."
Asked in what capacity Mrs Foster met Jackie McDonald, the DUP did not respond last night.