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Call to suspend Charter NI's funding as Dee Stitt row rumbles on

By Noel McAdam

Published 03/11/2016

Dee Stitt's current position is unclear
Dee Stitt's current position is unclear

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have been urged to halt funding to the east Belfast organisation whose chief executive is a senior leader in the UDA.

The SDLP also said the £1.7m recently announced for Charter NI should be suspended pending a full and independent review into how it is governed and organised.

The demand came as the board of the organisation yesterday distanced themselves from comments made by the chief executive, north Down UDA boss Dee Stitt.

But their statement failed to clarify whether Mr Stitt remains in post - despite DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday saying he understands Stitt has stood aside.

Stitt sparked controversy after an interview with the Guardian newspaper in which he described his North Down Defenders flute band as "our Homeland Security" and added: "We are here to defend North Down from anybody."

His leadership role became politically embarrassing to the DUP after First Minister Arlene Foster was photographed alongside him as £1.7m public funding for the group was announced.

But ongoing uncertainty over his position yesterday led to the SDLP attacking the "wall of silence" and lack of action from the First and Deputy First Minister.

North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said: "Not only is the conduct of the chief executive unacceptable, but the response of the organisation to his conduct is equally unacceptable.

"The chief executive should be gone, funding should be suspended and an independent review of its governance conducted before a single penny of public funds is granted to Charter NI."

There was no immediate response from the Executive Office.

Earlier, the Charter NI board said it was "deeply disappointed and greatly concerned" with Stitt's remarks to the Guardian.

"Our CEO understands the concerns of the board and has expressed sincere apologies for his lack of judgment on this occasion and the impact it has had on Charter NI. The board are addressing this matter internally.

"The media attention on Charter NI in recent weeks has been of grave concern to the board as it has the potential for detracting from the good work being undertaken by our staff in improving the lives of people in our operating area.

"For several months we have sought to support our chief executive in the face of persistent unsubstantiated allegations. Despite this pressure he has continued to effectively oversee the work of Charter NI as it achieves continued success through positive project outcomes."

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last week that Stitt proposed stepping down. But over the weekend, following the revelations in this newspaper, it is understood he threatened to rescind his offer.

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