'Brilliant loyalist groups' keeping drugs off Belfast streets, says UDA boss Stitt
The chief executive of Charter NI has hailed loyalist groups for keeping drugs off the streets of Northern Ireland.
In an interview with the Guardian, Dee Stitt - the self-confessed boss of North Down UDA - said loyalist groupings and community workers do "brilliant" work in their communities.
In a segment on his flute band, the North Down Defenders, Mr Stitt says: "There is always inter-community violence. In normal society there is always going to be big guy.
"Working class housing estates, it's a jungle."
He continued: "People see paramilitary grouping structures as a negative - some people see that as a negative and use it against loyalist communities
"They are involved in crime, drugs, racketeering....
"Loyalist groupings are doing some brilliant work, they are involved in community development running flute bands
"Loyalist groups and loyalist community leaders keep drugs out of our communities full stop, period. It's not here.
"North Down Defenders is our homeland security.
"It says it in its name, we are here to defend North Down.
"From anybody," he laughs.
Responding on BBC Stephen Nolan's Radio Ulster Show, East Belfast MLA and acting Alliance leader Naomi Long said: "If anyone is going to defend the people of North Down or east Belfast it is the PSNI
"That is why it is so important they have the full backing of politicians to do the job that they are there to do.
"Which is to protect the community from those involved in criminality.
"It is really important that they feel they can do that job without having to curry favour with what the chief constable described as 'community workers by day and paramilitaries by night'.
"That has to stop."
Charter NI was initially set-up to help UDA ex-prisoners, but it has expanded rapidly in recent years with millions of pounds in government funding.
Mr Stitt's UDA gang in north Down has been linked to drug dealing, racketeering and intimidation. Among the gang’s victims was community worker Aaron McMahon, who was attacked with hammers for opposing an illegal UDA bonfire.
The notorious loyalist served a five year prison term for an attempted UDA armed robbery in the 1990s.
In 2008, Mr Stitt was back before the courts charged with kidnapping a man in Bangor and threatening to kill him after he was discovered in the boot of a car. However, the case against him and two co-accused was later dropped.
In a 2013 radio interview Mr Stitt confessed to being a UDA member from the age of 15.
'Paramilitary life in the past'
Prior to the Guardian interview, in a statement he told the Nolan show his paramilitary life which he had been a part of, was in his past.
He said: "My personal history is matter of public record but even before my release from prison I resolved that my personal past would not determine my personal future.
"I also resolved that as far as it would lie within my gift I would counsel members of my community to positively influence them in order to avoid involvement in the paramilitary life I had been part of.
"And also contribute to the improvement in lives of people in protestant working class areas which for too long had been labeled as hard to reach and thereby failed to benefit from economic regeneration being experienced in east Belfast, North Down and Ards area.
"With others I became part of an ex-prisoners association whose members had the same aspirations, ambitions and visions. From that Charter NI was formed and I became an integral part of progressing the transformation of those working class communities.
"Charter NI is now the driving force in my life and daily provides me with the opportunity to make positive contribution to a peaceful and prosperous future for Northern Ireland where paramilitary organisations are in the past."
He continued: "Much has been made of my competence to manage an organisation in receipt of significant amounts of public money because of my background.
"These questions reflect an unwillingness to receive the transformational experience which I have articulated. They also fail to take into account reliability, openness and transparency of the management of these monies during my time as ceo and the successful outcomes of projects over the years.
"The accounts of Charter NI are a matter for public record and I can vouch for the complete accuracy of each and every financial transaction."
He said his role in Charter NI provided "visible evidence" of his "leadership" in community transformation.
"And I am pleased at the direction of travel that Charter NI has taken has been whole-heartedly endorsed and supported by the communities."
He concluded: "For several months allegations have been made about me being the UDA commander for North Down.
"To the best of my knowledge none of these allegations have been supported by evidence or presented to the PSNI
"My position as ceo of Charter NI brings me into regular contact with senior police officers both in North Down and east Belfast and I am pleased to confirm that I have never been accused by the authorities of the role which the allegations make against me.
"The persistence of these allegations in the media will not deflect me from the responsibilities which I carry out as ceo of Charter NI, nor from the responsibility I feel toward the communities which I am a part.
"I suspect the source of these allegations my be found among those who do not share the same values, and vision which I and my Charter NI colleagues are committed.
"I would wish to empathise the professional journey which I am undertaking has been based on the academic qualifications which I have earned, a period of personal mentoring by a highly experienced and well-regarded public servant and the guidance and direction of the board of Charter NI who have brought a wide range of life and work experiences to myself, the staff team and our organisation corporately
"In spite of the media intention which is largely focused largely on me, Charter NI continues to provide a positive and community service to an exceptional standard as verified by all independent scrutiny and monitoring."