Northern Ireland

Dee Stitt: McGuinness calls on loyalist CEO to reconsider position

Dee Stitt and Arlene Foster
Image caption Dee Stitt, pictured with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, has been criticised for remarks made in an article in the Guardian newspaper

The deputy first minister has called on a leading loyalist who runs a publicly-funded organisation in east Belfast to reconsider his position.

Dee Stitt is CEO of Charter NI, which lobbies and advocates for community groups.

Martin McGuinness said reputational damage was being done to worthwhile social investment projects as a result of the UDA leader's involvement.

He said the controversy around Mr Stitt's role was causing difficulties.

The Sinn Féin politician has previously defended his position.

There has been speculation surrounding Mr Stitt since he told the Guardian newspaper that his band, the North Down Defenders, were like "homeland security".

He also launched a foul-mouthed rant, claiming the government does not care about Northern Ireland.

Charter NI was recently awarded £1.7m from the executive's Social Investment Fund. Mr Stitt was photographed alongside First Minister Arlene Foster at an event marking the award.

Image caption Martin McGuinness has called on Dee Stitt to reconsider his position

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Mr Stitt had returned to his job after being told to take a three-week break.

Charter NI said it had completed an "internal review process", but its outcome was being kept secret.

The organisation's governing board said it had reinforced "the unacceptability of the statement made and the language used" to Mr Stitt, who recognised his "error of judgement" and apologised immediately.

The board said it was "deeply concerned about the damaging impact of media attention over the past weeks, which has brought Charter NI's unblemished record and achievements for our communities into question".

It added: "Our staff continue to work hard to improve the life opportunities for people in east Belfast and North Down, and the board wish to pay tribute to them during this testing period."

Speaking in a personal capacity, the DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said last month that if he were in charge of Charter NI, he would not have Mr Stitt as chief executive.

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