Belfast Telegraph

UDA endorses DUP's Pengelly in South Belfast - Foster feeling the heat

By Noel McAdam

Arlene Foster has come under pressure to respond to an election endorsement for her party from the UDA-linked UPRG.

The Ulster Political Research Group magazine The Loyalist said it "would strongly urge a vote for Emma Little Pengelly" in South Belfast.

It described the former junior minister as "realistically the more viable option due to experience", but added "people need to make their own minds up".

Former Alliance leader David Ford said: "It is bad enough to have paramilitaries backing a political party at any time, but it is especially troubling in this case, given it comes in the same week as a murder which is believed to be part of a UDA feud."

The former Justice Minister added: "Arlene Foster needs to make clear if her party accepts an endorsement by a group closely connected to the UDA. The electorate, particularly in South Belfast where this endorsement was given, deserve to know.

"It is now 2017 - paramilitaries should not even exist, never mind be giving ringing endorsements of political candidates.

"Questions remain over the Social Investment Fund - many thought it as nothing more than a paramilitary slush fund, with a particular emphasis to the UDA. This endorsement of the DUP by that same group does nothing to dispel those views."

The DUP responded: "There is no place for the UDA, or any other paramilitary group in our society. Their existence never was justified and is not justified now. We will work with those who wish to leave their past behind, but anyone involved in any kind of illegal activity must face the full weight of the law."

Mrs Foster has also come in for criticism for meeting UDA boss Jackie McDonald within 48 hours of the murder in Bangor on Sunday of loyalist Colin Horner as part of a feud within the terrorist group.

Asked if she had told Mr McDonald paramilitary groups should not exist, the ex-First Minister said: "I had no need to say it to Jackie McDonald. Jackie McDonald knows my views very, very clearly.

"If people want to move away from criminality, from terrorism, we will help them to do that, but anyone who is engaged in this sort of activity should stop, should desist, and if they don't they should be open to the full rigour of the law."

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd said: "There is a responsibility on all in political leadership to challenge the very existence of paramilitary groups.

"Recently Arlene Foster claimed that Jeremy Corbyn's meetings with Sinn Fein during the conflict raised questions about his democratic credentials."

There were also attacks on the former First Minister last year after she was photographed alongside senior loyalist figure Dee Stitt in an announcement about the Social Investment Fund.

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