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Ex-UDA prisoner slams critics of publicly funded anti-racism trip

By Deborah McAleese

A former UDA prisoner has hit back at criticism that ex-loyalist paramilitaries have received Government funding to travel to Poland as part of an anti-racism training programme.

William ‘Twister’ McQuiston — who served 12 years in jail for terrorist offences — said that he and other members of loyalist communities have participated in the programme to help change racist attitudes within their local communities.

A row erupted after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a number of former loyalist paramilitaries had taken part in the anti-racism training programme — backed by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister — which culminated in a visit to Poland.

Critics of the initiative — called The Thin End of the Wedge — claimed that ex-paramilitaries should not have been given funding “to stop being racist”.

Mr McQuiston rubbished the critics saying he finds it “ironic” that participants in the programme have been stereotyped for taking part in an initiative to address racist and stereotypical attitudes.

“I was one of the ones the negative comments were aimed at about ex-prisoners being involved, but the fact remains the people that were there, no matter what background they are from, they work in the community and have influence in the community,” said Mr McQuiston.

“They are workers and influencers in their community regardless of their background.

“I think it is a bit ironic that we are away there studying racism and stereotypes and people are stereotyping us for it.”

He added: “We went over there to learn and understand more about Polish culture and society and bring that back into the communities.

“We are trying to bring that understanding into communities here.

“I don’t know what it cost, but who is to quantify what that training would save in the future?

“If it saves windows being broke, homes being wrecked and people being hurt, how can you quantify that?

“People can rant and rave all they want — nobody can quantify the good that will come out of it.

“Here you have some people coming from an ex-prisoner background, who are working in the community, who are trying to learn not to stereotype people and they come back and are stereotyped themselves.”

The Thin End of the Wedge is a City and Guilds-accredited programme and has the full backing of the Polish government.

Members of the Lower Shankill Community Association were the first to pass level one of the pilot scheme.

The pilot programme is currently mainly focused on working to eradicate racist attacks on Polish people living in loyalist areas of Belfast.

However, it is hoped that it will be rolled out to include other groups.

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