Belfast Telegraph

Charter NI chief Drew Haire says charity doesn't siphon off cash for paramilitaries

By Jonathan Bell

Charter NI board chairman Drew Haire has said he is concerned the recent publicity surrounding the organisation has detracted from its good work, saying the picture being painted of the charity being used as a means of siphoning off cash to keep paramilitaries happy was a wrong one.

Mr Hair was speaking to the BBC's Stephen Nolan show in response to police claims people connected to the ex-prisoners' organisation are UDA members involved in paramilitary activity.

More: Make a choice between paramilitarism and community work, Foster and McGuinness warn over Social Investment Fund controversy

Mr Haire, a former head of the Community Relations Unit with the Office of First and deputy First Minister, said the revelations by the senior police officer came as a shock and they were seeking an urgent meeting with PSNI chiefs. He stressed that they did not condone criminal activity and would assist with any investigation.

He said that the picture of his group being painted as "corrupt and a means of siphoning money to keep paramilitary organisations quiet and happy was far from the truth".

"We set up as an organisation by people from an ex-prisoner background whose desire was to proceed along a different path, to make positive contribution to communities they came from," he said.

"As a board we came on to progress that goal and had been extremely successful in doing so.

"And until about two months ago Charter had achieved standard of recognition and appreciation across a wide range of funding supporters in government and outside for the quality of work that is done and the outcomes achieved and also for the reliability and honesty of all aspects of all the work we do."

Charter NI has been embroiled in controversy after it was awarded £1.7million in public funds. Its chief executive - the self-confessed UDA leader Dee Stitt - then appeared in an interview with The Guardian in which he described his North Down Defenders flute band as "homeland security" protecting his territory "from anybody".

Stitt apologised to the Charter NI board and received a final written warning for the remarks.

Mr Haire said the recent news coverage was taking away from the "good work" the organisation had done.

He said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin's claims that people connected to the organisation were actively involved in paramilitarism came as a shock.

He said: "While it came as a personal shock, it is more of a worry and concern for the organisation.

"We are taking this, and every turn this has taken very seriously indeed.

"What I would say is that these stories are tarring everyone working with the organisation with the same brush. And to say it is unfortunate is not really the right word.

"There are good people doing good work for Charter NI. Our prime concern is for that good work."

Mr Haire said he had requested an urgent meeting with PSNI top brass to discuss the comments. He also said members of the board would have to consider their positions, if the claims were proven.

"People have to think of their own personal credibility and of course our own corporate credibility of prime concern is the good work the organisation does," he added.

"Charter is a responsible organisation operating entirely legitimately. Everything we have done has been completely clean in terms of monitoring and evaluation.

"We have set very high standards set in terms of the organisation and we have passed every test and that would be the same for all in the Social Investment Fund."

On why the board supported Dee Stitt in the wake of his "homeland security comments," Mr Haire responded: "We worked our way through a disciplinary process. He has been acting as chief executive in the past three years in a way that has matched up with all his job requirements.

"There have been allegations made about him, and as we have said in our statement, where there is evidence of criminality or illegal behaviour we would support the police taking action against anybody."

Mr Haire said that in regard to the future of Charter NI, he said it was entirely in their own hands.

"We have always been about legitimate community work.

"All we can do and all we aspire to do is to be judged by results that we do."

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