Arlene Foster rejects paramilitary-linked backing for party
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said her party fundamentally rejects the endorsement of anyone involved in paramilitarism.
Mrs Foster's comments came amid growing calls for the DUP to clarify its response to the backing of a body representing loyalist paramilitaries.
Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party had demanded that Mrs Foster distance herself from the public support of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), an umbrella group linked to the three main loyalist paramilitary groups - the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando.
The LCC issued a statement on Monday urging voters to back DUP and Ulster Unionist candidates in four battleground constituencies.
The council also heavily criticised the Alliance, and warned unionists not to vote for it, claiming that would drive a "nail into the coffin of the Union".
"Many unionists think they can retain their unionism yet vote for Alliance candidates. They are sorely mistaken in that belief," the LCC said.
In response, UUP leader Robin Swann said he did not want the backing of organisations still involved in paramilitarism.
The call for clarity from the DUP came after two senior members gave somewhat different answers when pressed on whether they rejected the LCC backing.
While Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he rejected the endorsement, Simon Hamilton stopped short of specifically rebuffing the council's statement, insisting the body had done good work to move paramilitaries away from violence.
Last night, Mrs Foster (right) said: "I am aware, of course, of the LCC statement. We did not seek that statement, we did not seek endorsement from any paramilitary organisation and indeed I fundamentally reject an endorsement from anyone that's involved with paramilitarism or criminality."
Mrs Foster said there were people in the LCC "trying their best" to move loyalists away from their past. She said she would support those efforts.
"I am certainly not going to walk away from loyalist communities in Northern Ireland," she told UTV.
Last week, a UDA-linked paramilitary feud claimed its latest victim when Carrickfergus man Colin Horner (35), was shot dead in a supermarket car park in Bangor, Co Down.
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 Pengelly.
Sinn Fein and Alliance had urged the DUP to distance itself from the public support of the LCC.
Earlier, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said he did not want the backing of organisations still involved in paramilitarism.
Mr Hamilton branded Sinn Fein's criticism "ironic", given the party's links with the IRA.