Leading article

Dee Stitt saga proving an embarrassment to the executive

THE fact that UDA commander Dee Stitt appears determined to cling on to his position as head of Charter NI is proving a particular challenge to the executive, primarily the First Minister.

Stitt has been under pressure to stand down from his £35,000 a year post as chief executive of the east Belfast organisation since he launched a foul-mouthed attack on the British government and boasted that the loyalist flute band he runs is `our homeland security', proclaiming: ``We are here to defend north Down from anybody.''

All this has proved rather embarrassing for Arlene Foster who was photographed standing alongside Mr Stitt, a convicted armed robber, when he was revealed as CEO of the £1.7 million employability scheme last month.

When political support began ebbing away - Jeffrey Donaldson said he `would not have him as my chief executive in the light of those comments' - it looked likely that Mr Stitt's days in the role were numbered.

Indeed, last month Mrs Foster said she understood he would not remain as chief executive and expressed approval at this prospect as Mr Stitt `had become the story and not the employability scheme.'

However, the loyalist has proved an exceptionally tenacious individual, returning to his post this week after the Charter NI board issued a final written warning but backed him to stay in his role.

This is a difficult issue for the executive. Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said Mr Stitt should `consider stepping aside' while Mrs Foster, clearly deeply irritated by the entire saga, refused to back his view, merely saying it would be wrong to intervene.

We are now at something of an impasse with the loyalist paramilitary apparently holding the upper hand in a battle of wills with the Stormont administration.

This controversy has placed a spotlight on the oversight structures that should be at the heart of all initiatives funded by the public purse.

Tackling deprivation through the Social Investment Fund is laudable but all such schemes must satisfy the highest standards of transparency and accountability.



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