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Dee Stitt should not be Charter NI chief: Jeffrey Donaldson says in Nolan Show 'ambush'

BBC presenter denies MP's trap claims

By Jonny Bell

Published 24/10/2016

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson
Charter NI chief executive Dee Stitt
Stephen Nolan at BBC Broadcasting House. Picture Mark McCormick

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says self-confessed UDA boss Dee Stitt should not be the chief executive of Charter NI following the controversy surrounding the awarding of public money to the group.

In an interview with the Guardian, Dee Stitt said loyalist groupings and community workers do "brilliant" work in their communities.

He also described his North Down Defenders  flute band as "our homeland security".

More:

'Brilliant loyalist groups' keeping drugs off Belfast streets, says UDA boss Stitt 

Stormont probes UDA chief Stitt's ‘homeland security’ remarks  

UDA boss Stitt's 1.7m reasons to be happy  

DUP MP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking on the Stephen Nolan Radio Ulster show defended First Minister Arlene Foster standing alongside Mr Stitt, who once served time for attempted armed robbery, for the awarding of the cash.

He said if he were in charge of Charter NI, he would not have Mr Stitt in charge.

"We support Charter NI, we didn't appoint the chief executive, that is a matter for Charter NI," he said.

"Arlene would not have been aware of his [Guardian] comments [when she stood alongside Dee Stitt to announce funding for his group]."

Asked should Mr Stitt remain as chief executive, Sir Jeffrey said: "Charter NI have to deal with it. We don't operate some kind of Soviet regime where diktats come down from Stormont saying 'sack this person or that person'.

"I don't support the comments, of course I don't. I have opposed paramilitarism all my life. I believe the only people that protect communities are the forces of law and order and that is the PSNI.

"I have criticised what he said, it is a matter for Charter NI. I do not support his comments in anyway, I think they are highly regrettable 

"If I was in charge of Charter NI, I would not have him in charge in light of these comments.

"But I am not in charge, Charter NI has a board and these things have to be done legally.

"This is not Soviet Russia."

Sir Jeffrey continued: "Charter NI do some excellent work in east Belfast. The First Minister has supported the work of Charter NI because of its transformation efforts of communities in east Belfast.

"And I am not going to condemn the work of an entire group of people because of the comments of one individual.

"I didn't appoint [Dee Stitt], nor did the First Minister, nor did the DUP.

"Charter NI has the DUP's support."

Asked what the DUP position was on Dee Stitt and if it supported him, Sir Jeffrey accused Stephen Nolan of an "ambush" saying he had been invited on to the show to talk about something else.

However, Mr Nolan denied this was the case saying he was asking the MP his view on a news story, which he has done in the past with Sir Jeffrey and many others.

"You heard the programme on Friday, and all I am doing is asking for your opinion," he said.

Sir Jeffrey hit back: "No you are not doing that.

"If you had given me the courtesy of saying 'I am going to raise this and I am going to ask you about the DUP's position' then I would have had the opportunity to give you a fulsome answer.

"As it is I can only give you a personal opinion and I have tried to be open and honest with you and that's where we are at."

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.

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.

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