Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster ruined my street cred says Dee Stitt

Dee Stitt with Arlene Foster in 2016
Brendan Hughes

LEADING UDA figure Dee Stitt has resigned as chief executive of Charter NI – saying that Arlene Foster ruined his "street cred".

Charter NI made headlines in 2016 after The Irish News highlighted the charity's UDA links when it was picked to manage a £1.7 million investment in east Belfast.

While First Minister, DUP leader Mrs Foster was pictured with Stitt as the contentious Social Investment Fund scheme was announced.

At the time Mrs Foster said she did not regret the photo, insisting the employability project that had been announced was a "very good programme".

But Stitt, a convicted gunman, came under pressure to step aside as CEO after his paramilitary connections came under scrutiny.

Questions were asked about the funding after he was filmed saying the British government does not care about Northern Ireland and describing the loyalist North Down Defenders band as "our homeland security".

Stitt later apologised and the board of Charter NI at the time said it was "addressing this matter internally".

In a statement yesterday, Charter NI said "negative media attention has been a great strain on David and his family" and thanked him for his "commitment and dedication through difficult times".

He will remain within Charter NI as a project manager with a programme for ex-prisoners.

Speaking after the announcement, Stitt said he would "absolutely not" pose for a photograph with Mrs Foster again and said the DUP leader "wouldn't be at the top of my Christmas card list".

"Did she ruin my street cred? Of course she did," he told the BBC.

"Would I do it if I could go back again? Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Stitt said the decision to resign as chief executive was due to the impact of "media coverage" on his family.

"I'm a strong character – I came through conflict all my life, I was fighting during the conflict for 30 years – but the bottom line is that it's not all about me," he said.

"I still work for Charter NI and I love being a part of it and the projects we do, but I was just waiting for the right time to resign from my role as CEO.

"The media coverage doesn't affect me but it does affect my family and that has an impact on me."

Based in east Belfast, Charter NI aims to provide people with training and employment opportunities.

Stitt has previously challenged allegations that he was a UDA commander, saying: "To the best of my knowledge, none of these allegations has been supported by evidence being presented to the PSNI."

In April this year, Stitt told The Irish News he planned to continue in his chief executive role despite pressure to stand down.

"I thought that investment in this community was a brilliant thing, and if I did something wrong in relation to that then please tell me," he said.

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