Northern Ireland news

Charity Commission reprimands groups who urged UUP not to stand against Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds, Deputy Leader who is standing in North Belfast for the DUP.

Community groups represented in a letter urging the UUP not to stand a North Belfast election candidate have been reprimanded by the Charities Commission for breaching rules on political neutrality.

The letter, signed by 25 people, some representing community and residents groups, called on UUP leader Steve Aiken to give DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds a free run against Sinn Féin.

The letter stated there was "strong opposition" to splitting the unionist vote in the constituency where Mr Dodds is seeking to retain his Westminster seat against the challenge of John Finucane.

The UUP did not stand a candidate in the constituency in 2017 when Mr Dodds had a reduced majority of 2,081 over Sinn Féin.

The letter called on Mr Aiken to put 'country before party.'

Mr Aiken had previously said he would stand candidates in all 18 constituencies but backed down after the letter was published.

The UUP's Steve Aiken said he would not field a candidate in North Belfast after coming under pressure.

Unionist fears of losing the seat were further heightened after the SDLP decided not to run a candidate.

The Royal British Legion has already distanced itself from the letter, signed by one of their members Bobby Gillespie, saying: "We are a strictly non-party political organisation. This letter does not represent the views of the Legion and we are investigating how our name has been misused in this situation".

It is understood the Charities Commission has written to all least four registered charities whose representatives signed the letter.

Sinn Féin's John Finucane is standing for the party in North Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison/ Pacemaker.

In its communication, the commission said it was "is in breach of the commission's guidance on 'Charities and Politics' and is therefore not permitted".

"Charities trustees must not allow the charity to be used as a vehicle for the expression of the political view of any individual trustee or member of staff".

It also states that the charities will be afforded the opportunity to take "required remedial action" although it is not clear what that action is.

Jamie Bryson says loyalists have planned a meeting to discuss the Charity Commission.

Loyalist Jamie Bryson said that a meeting has been planned for all charities within the unionist community currently under investigation by the commission, "as we fell there needs to be a collective approach to fighting back".

And he questioned whether charities in the nationalist sector had also been reprimanded for political activity.

The Charity Commission did not respond to a request for a comment.

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