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UDA boss Stitt quits £35k charity job funded by Stormont


Dee Stitt with Arlene Foster at the Charter NI funding announcement

Dee Stitt with Arlene Foster at the Charter NI funding announcement

Dee Stitt with Arlene Foster at the Charter NI funding announcement

UDA boss Dee Stitt is set to announce that he is stepping down as chief executive of Charter NI amidst growing controversy over the awarding of public money to the group.

Loyalist sources told the Belfast Telegraph that Stitt would today declare that he is resigning from the job.

The decision follows a lengthy Charter NI board meeting yesterday held in the wake of increasing outrage at the loyalist's position in the group.

Stitt's UDA gang in North Down has been linked to drug dealing, racketeering and intimidation.

In a contentious interview in The Guardian last week, the UDA boss, who has enjoyed a £35,000 a year salary as Charter NI's chief executive, described his North Down Defenders flute band as "our homeland security" and added: "We are here to defend north Down from anybody".

A loyalist source said that Stitt would issue a statement today announcing he was resigning his position in the group which has received £1.7m funding from the Stormont Executive.

The UDA boss is set to say that he has made the decision to quit voluntarily and has not been pushed out by the board.

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However, pressure has been mounting over his continuing leadership of the group, which had become an embarrassment to the DUP.

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First Minister Arlene Foster was pictured standing alongside Stitt - a convicted armed robber - when a public funding announcement for Charter NI was made last month.

Stitt's resignation follows comments earlier this week by the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that he should not be the group's chief executive.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Monday, the Lagan Valley MP strongly defended Mrs Foster over the photograph - but said that if he were in charge of Charter NI, he would not have Stitt as its head.

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

"Arlene would not have been aware of his [Guardian] comments [when she stood alongside Stitt to announce funding for his group]."

Asked should Stitt remain as chief executive, Sir Jeffrey said: "Charter NI have to deal with it. We don't operate some kind of Soviet regime where diktats come down from Stormont saying 'sack this person or that person'.

"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 any way, 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."

Sir Jeffrey continued: "Charter NI do some excellent work in east Belfast. The First Minister has supported the work of Charter NI because of its transformation efforts of communities in east Belfast.

"And I am not going to condemn the work of an entire group of people because of the comments of one individual. I didn't appoint [Stitt], nor did the First Minister, nor did the DUP. Charter NI has the DUP's support."

Charter NI was initially set-up to help UDA ex-prisoners. It expanded rapidly, and was controversially awarded a £1.7m from the Executive's Social Investment Fund.

Stitt served five years in prison for an attempted armed robbery in the 1990s.

In a 2013 radio interview, he admitted joining the UDA at the age of 15. Stitt has previously said that his paramilitary life belonged to his past.

Among the North Down UDA's victims was popular community worker and father-of-three Aaron McMahon, who was attacked with hammers for opposing an illegal paramilitary bonfire last November.

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