Arlene Foster urged to make unequivocal rejection of loyalist paramilitary support

CLARITY: Arlene Foster has been urged to reject the support of loyalist paramilitaries. Right, Sinn Féin’s North Belfast candidate John Finucane

Arlene Foster has been urged to clarify whether she and her full party has spurned the backing of a shadowy loyalist grouping.

The call followed Lagan Valley candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's rejection of support from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC).

His remarks came 36 hours after the loyalist umbrella group, which represents the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, issued a statement urging voters to back DUP and Ulster Unionist candidates in four battleground constituencies.

The statement said "every unionist and loyalist" should vote for DUP candidates Emma Little-Pengelly, Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson, as well as Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann had earlier rejected the support of the loyalist grouping.

"The Ulster Unionist Party is a party of law and order," the North Antrim MLA said.

"We have not asked for the support of paramilitary organisations nor do we want the backing of organisations still engaged in paramilitary or criminal activity."

The LCC statement "warned" people about voting Alliance, claiming it would drive a "nail into the coffin of the union".

The statement said Naomi Long's party was unrivalled in its efforts to "undermine the Britishness of Northern Ireland, and forment the community mistrust".

It was issued a week after the shooting of Colin Horner in Bangor Co Down. The 35-year-old was thought to have been the victim of a UDA-linked feud, which had already claimed the life of Geordie Gilmore in March.

Former DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton said his party did not want the support of anyone engaged in paramilitary activity.

"Anybody who is involved in paramilitary or criminal activity we do not want your support, we do not want your vote on Thursday," he said.

Mr Hamilton insisted his party did not seek the endorsement of the LCC but when pressed in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, he did not specifically reject its backing.

He credited the LCC with attempting to move paramilitaries away from violence.

"I acknowledge the work that the Loyalist Communities Council has been doing in trying to work with paramilitary organisations to try to take them away from their past - I think that is positive, that is something to be encouraged," he said.

Prior to the LCC statement, last week a newspaper produced by the Ulster Political Research Group, which is politically aligned with the UDA, publicly endorsed the DUP's candidate in south Belfast, Emma Little-Pengelly.

But yesterday the DUP's rivals claimed the party had not been equivocal enough.

Sinn Féin North Belfast candidate John Finucane said Mrs Foster needed to make it clear that she rejected the LCC endorsement.

"The DUP like to claim they are the party of law and order but obviously not when it comes to courting the support of paramilitary groups which are still actively involved in violence, intimidation and murder as recently as last week – that is simply unacceptable." he said.

"Arlene Foster needs to immediately reject the support of these organisations and make it clear they have no place in our society and should disband immediately."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson also called on the DUP leader to state whether Sir Jeffrey and Mr Hamilton's comments were "made in a personal capacity or on behalf of the entire party".

"Those specifically named in the LCC endorsement have also yet to distance themselves from it," he said.

"When you have active paramilitaries warning against voting for any particular party, it clearly has sinister undertones."

For a complete list of candidates standing in the general election on Thursday click here

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