Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Ritchie could withdraw UDA funding today

An announcement by the Stormont Minister Margaret Ritchie that she is withdrawing funding for a loyalist conflict transformation initiative is now thought to be imminent - and could come today.

Any statement will be made first in the Assembly - and under procedure the Social Development Minister must give the Speaker's Office a minimum of two and a half hours notice of her plans.

A 60-day deadline set by the Minister for UDA decommissioning expired this day last week.

Ms Ritchie threatened to withdraw funding for the conflict transformation initiative (CTI) after the UDA was linked to street violence in Carrickfergus and Bangor.

Infighting between loyalists has continued in recent days.

Some of the most senior figures in the Ulster Political Research Group - the political wing of the UDA - are employed in the CTI, including Frankie Gallagher who is its director.

Yesterday a well-placed source told this newspaper that Ms Ritchie planned to make her announcement "within 24 hours".

"That's the plan," the source said - predicting the Minister " will move and move quickly".

What is not clear is whether there will be any attempt to block her planned statement.

She has been taking legal advice since a meeting of the Executive last Monday.

But sources say her position has not changed. The plan is to withdraw the funding and re-direct the money into other projects in the Protestant/loyalist communities. "I know if she had her way, she wouldn't back off," a loyalist source told the Belfast Telegraph.

There have been intense background contacts to try to find some compromise position - and also suggestions of a significant UDA statement being planned for Remembrance Sunday November 11.

Asked about the content of that statement, a loyalist source told this newspaper: "I would say it's about everything. I would say it's serious. "

Asked if Ms Ritchie knew the detail, he responded: "I don't think she would know the content. If you were the UDA, would you tell her?"

He said the planned statement would be "genuine - there's no ambiguity" .

But, today, all eyes will be on the Social Development Minister - with the suggestion that decision time is now very close.

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