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UDA chief Stitt wouldn't be leading Charter NI if I was involved: Donaldson

By Rebecca Black

Published 25/10/2016

Charter NI boss Dee Stitt
Charter NI boss Dee Stitt

A controversial community group in east Belfast has been criticised again after a DUP MP said he would not have Charter NI's loyalist chief executive in charge if he was involved.

Charter NI boss Dee Stitt was criticised last week after he appeared to defend paramilitary groups, describing loyalist band the North Down Defenders as "our homeland security" and said "we are here to defend North Down from anybody".

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking on the Stephen Nolan Show about the position held by Mr Stitt - who served a five-year prison term for an attempted UDA armed robbery in the 1990s. He defended First Minister Arlene Foster for standing alongside Mr Stitt after Charter NI was entrusted with managing £1.7m from the Executive for community development.

But Sir Jeffrey added if he were involved with Charter NI, he would not have Mr Stitt, who has been repeatedly named as a UDA leader, in charge.

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

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.

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon has called for public funding of Charter NI to be suspended until a review of the organisation's governance arrangements, including comments made by Mr Stitt, is carried out.

"The reference to the North Down Defenders as North Down's 'homeland security' are disturbing, alarming and need urgent clarification," she said.

"There clearly needs to be an evaluation about this individual's support for the rule of law and his fitness to lead an organisation in receipt of significant public funding."

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