Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Executive 'can't ignore furore over Charter NI links to UDA activity'

By Noel McAdam

The Executive has been told it can no longer ignore the furore engulfing Charter NI.

First Minister Arlene Foster returns to her desk at Stormont this week to a growing controversy over the East Belfast community organisation.

Pressure is mounting after the PSNI said people linked to it have been involved in recent paramilitary activity.

As Mrs Foster arrived home from her trade mission to China, the SDLP insisted that "doing nothing is no longer an option".

Executive Ministers are due to meet this week in their final session before Christmas, but it is not clear if the Charter NI issue is on the agenda.

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said: "The Executive can no longer afford to ignore this."

She said the First Minister and deputy First Minister are either "content to allow this to continue or afraid to stand up to these individuals."

Ms Mallon said Ministers had received briefings about the situation in Charter NI and questioned what they were doing with that information.

The demand came after PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said some people connected to Charter NI had links to paramilitary activity.

"Certainly there are, there may be an individual or individuals connected to Charter who have certainly been recently active," he said. "Charter as an organisation, we have seen do good work on the ground, but clearly there are connections within that organisation to the UDA," he told the Stephen Nolan Show.

Charter NI's board of directors said they were seeking a meeting with police. "The consistent position of the board of Charter NI is that we do not condone illegal or criminal activity of any kind," a statement said. "We reaffirm our support for any prosecution brought by the PSNI of any person where there is evidence of involvement in illegal activity.

"The comments made (by Mr Martin) come as a surprise to us, particularly as we have regular involvement with PSNI officers in a number of our projects who have given no indication of concerns about current paramilitary activity by an individual or individuals connected with Charter NI."

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