Belfast Telegraph

BBC claims DUP politician attended terror group meeting - watchdog urged to begin probe

By Suzanne Breen

The Alliance Party has reported allegations that the UDA held a meeting at a community centre in North Down to police.

BBC's Spotlight programme claimed that DUP councillor Wesley Irvine handed out party leaflets and voter registration forms at the gathering ahead of June's Westminster election.

The allegations were made by a UDA whistleblower. Mr Irvine, a former North Down mayor, has denied that he attended a gathering of the paramilitary organisation. 

He said he thought he was attending a flute band meeting.

He continued, saying he was present "to encourage electoral registration", and he denied handing out DUP literature.

According to Spotlight, the meeting was chaired by UDA commander Dee Stitt, and those attending were asked to leave their mobile phones outside the room.

Alliance North Down councillor Andrew Muir yesterday said he had referred councillor Irvine to the local government commissioner for standards "as the allegations would be against the code of conduct for councillors, if proven".

Mr Muir also made an independent complaint over the alleged use of council premises.

"I have reported to PSNI my concerns after this week's Spotlight programme, particularly around the allegation the UDA held a meeting in Bangor earlier this year at which Dee Stitt, who has publicly stated he is a commander in the UDA, attended.

"Further to this, allegations were made on the programme Alderman Irvine attended, seeking political and electoral support.

"I have therefore also referred Alderman Irvine to the local government commissioner to ask them to investigate his alleged presence at the meeting, which has been claimed to be a meeting of the UDA's 'North Down battalion'. It is vital this situation is probed immediately and Alderman Irvine answers the questions raised by it."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said councillor Irvine had a "moral and legal imperative" to tell the authorities who else was at the meeting and allow them to "make a determination whether further action should be taken". Dr Farry added: "Alliance is opposed to all forms of paramilitarism and the cancer it represents in our society.

"This includes giving active paramilitary organisations legitimacy by meeting them and canvassing for votes. Questions have been raised and now it is up to the proper authorities to seek answers."

Earlier this week, police received a complaint alleging that Assembly Speaker Robin Newton broke the law by not declaring an interest in Charter NI.

A member of the public lodged the complaint about the East Belfast MLA in the wake of allegations broadcast by Spotlight.

The DUP politician denies claims that he misled the Assembly about the true nature of his role in the UDA-linked charity.

The Speaker has refused to resign from his £87,500 a year job but says he won't run again for the Speaker's position if the Assembly returns.

Every political party in Stormont bar the DUP has called on him to step aside.

Party leader Arlene Foster has remained silent on the issue.

Spotlight reported that when Mr Newton blocked an urgent question on the awarding of public funds to the controversial Charter NI charity last autumn, he hadn't revealed his key role as an 'advisor' to the group.

The BBC obtained internal Charter NI papers including copies of its board minutes which it said proved that Mr Newton had "an important role in helping to run Charter NI, including attending full board meetings from mid-2012".

Belfast Telegraph

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