Northern Ireland news

DUP has a history of dialogue with loyalist grouping

Nigel Dodds, Jim Allister and the Rev Mervyn Gibson at the Ulster hall rally in December 2019.

THE DUP'S decision to meet the Loyalist Communities Council to discuss tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol was met with criticism and claims it was legitimising loyalist paramilitaries.

The body, which was set up in 2015, represents outlawed terror groups including the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando.

However it is not the first time the party has met umbrella groups representing loyalist paramilitaries in times of crisis.

In 2007 the then Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie announced her intention to stop a loyalist initiative which was to get £1.2m of government funding until the UDA agreed to decommission weapons.

The deadline was set after repeated violence linked to the UDA.

Former Finance Minister and at that time DUP leader Peter Robinson spoke out to accuse Ms Richie of being in breach of the ministerial code.

Senior loyalists linked to the Conflict Transformation Initiative (CTI) were invited to Stormont several times in one of the first big initiatives, aimed at pushing loyalist paramilitaries into the political arena with the promise of funding.

The argument over the CTI funding ended up in the courts where a judge quashed the decision of the minister to halt the funding of the CTI, although the group received a greatly reduced amount of public money.

It was this very public debate over funding community groups linked to paramilitary groups which was said to be one of the reasons behind the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF) being taken out of departmental control and placed under the remit of the Executive Office.

A damning 2018 Audit Office report into the allocation, management and value for money of SIF found a "very concerning" lack of governance of the scheme.

It came following two years of scrutiny of the fund after tThe Irish News reported in 2016 an alleged UDA boss's role as a chief executive of charity Charter NI, was awarded a contract to manage £1.7 million from the fund.

Convicted armed robber Dee Stitt was pictured alongside Arlene Foster at the announcement of a project that was aimed at bringing employment to an area of east Belfast.

Stitt later resigned as chief executive of Charter NI, saying that being pictured alongside Arlene Foster ruined his "street cred".

In 2013 in reaction to the Union flag protests, Peter Robinson announced the setting up of a new Unionist Forum.

The then First Minister said the new forum would be "the most representative group in the unionist community to meet in half a century".

At the launch of the forum Mr Robinson was pictured shaking hands with the alleged leader of the South Belfast UDA, Jackie McDonald and former Red Hand Commando prisoner Jim Wilson.

Both men are current members of the Loyalist Communities Council and both were present at the meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds on Thursday.

The forum was short lived and loyalists began criticisingly the lack of progress within months of its formation.

In December 2019 members of the DUP and UUP attended a number of 'town hall rallies' in response to Boris Johnson's proposed Breixt withdrawal agreement.

Mr Dodds was among those who spoke at the Rally For The Union at the Ulster Hall.

Media was not permitted to attend the event but a statement released afterwards by the organisers said: “We will not tolerate an economic united Ireland. We will not accept a border in the Irish Sea... We will resist the Betrayal Act.”

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