Northern Ireland news

UDA linked group to manage £1.7 million investment for east Belfast

DUP Councillor Sharon Skillen, loyalist Dee Stitt, First Minister Arlene Foster; Drew Haire, Chairperson Charter NI and Caroline Birch, Project Manager.

A £1.7 million investment in east Belfast, announced yesterday by First Minister Arlene Foster, is to be managed through a group linked to the UDA.

UDA boss Jimmy Birch and close associate Dee Stitt both hold senior positions in Charter NI which the Northern Ireland Executive Office has hand-picked to manage the massive investment of public money.

They will play a major role in deciding how the Social Investment Fund (SIF) windfall is spent in east Belfast.

Birch sits on the UDA-linked group's board of directors while convicted gunman Stitt is its chief executive.

Jimmy Birch's wife Caroline also works as a project manager for the group.

The Social Investment Fund's Belfast East Employability Project managed by Charter NI, is intended to assist at least 300 unemployed, low paid or low skilled people to find employment.

However, questions have been raised as to why a group headed up by UDA members, with the organisation still heavily involved in extortion, was chosen to manage the project.

Stitt, a self confessed UDA member from Bangor, has been embroiled in a series of recent scandals including claims that a bonfire in the seaside town that local people objected to was being used as leverage to extract funding from the local council.

There have also been paramilitary style attacks, including a hammer attack on a local community worker, carried out by the UDA in Bangor over the last year.

Announcing Charter NI's involvement yesterday, First Minister Arlene Foster said: "This project is exactly what the Social Investment Fund is all about.

"It is bringing about social change in parts of Northern Ireland that are suffering from real disadvantage and giving people a helping hand to make the most of their potential.

"I commend the people working in the voluntary and community sectors, who know what most needs to be done in the areas where they work, and I have no doubt this Project will build on that success and really make a difference to the people of East Belfast", Mrs Foster said.

The First Minister was pictured standing beside Stitt (45).

The recommendation of the Social Investment Fund's (SIF) eight-strong East Belfast Steering Panel that Charter NI be picked to manage the £1.7 million is also controversial.

Convicted UDA gunman Sam 'Chalky' White, a failed DUP council candidate, sits on the panel and is a paid employee of Charter NI. He is one of the people who recommended that the group be trusted with the huge windfall.

Read more:

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the payment of such a large amount of taxpayers' money given to Charter NI was "seriously concerning".

"The Social Investment Fund is an invite-only slush fund. Organisations that offer these services can't apply for SIF unless they get a tap on the shoulder," she said.

"A lot of the SIF projects I've no doubt are laudable but the delivery channels used are entirely inappropriate.

"Charter NI is inextricably linked with the UDA. They were founded to support UDA prisoners and regardless of the extension of that work it is not a funding organisation you would approach if you were seeking employment skills. How could have anyone have confidence to deal with such an organisation?"

Charter NI could not be contacted last night.

Read more: 

Leading loyalist Dee Stitt who was CEO of Charter NI. Picture by Mal McCann


Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news