Northern Ireland

Dee Stitt: Arlene Foster won't back calls for UDA leader to stand down

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Media captionArlene Foster said that she could not tell groups like Charter NI who to employ

First Minister Arlene Foster has refused to back calls for a UDA leader who heads an east Belfast community-based organisation to step down.

On Wednesday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Dee Stitt should reconsider his position as chief executive of Charter NI.

However, Mrs Foster said she could not tell the organisation what to do over employability issues.

She said she regretted the fact that Mr Stitt had now become "a distraction".

"My view is he has become a distraction to the work that's ongoing in east Belfast and I regret that," Mrs Foster said.

"This man is an employee of Charter NI and they have to deal with him as they see fit, it would be wrong for me to intervene in all of the different organisations that exist across Northern Ireland."

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 calls for Mr Stitt to stand down began after he claimed the government does not care about Northern Ireland in a foul-mouthed rant to The Guardian newspaper. He has since apologised.

The leading loyalist has been given a final written warning as part of an internal disciplinary procedure.

Earlier, an SDLP MLA called for an independent review of the conduct of Mr Stitt.

Nichola Mallon told the BBC's Nolan Show that Charter NI's work has been tarred as a result of the controversy.

"The issue here is what, or who, has anything to fear from an independent review," Ms Mallon said.

"We are at a situation where a serious shadow has been cast over any of the good work that goes on within this organisation," she added.

Charter NI is a publically funded body which lobbies and advocates for community groups.

Image caption Charter NI is a publically funded body which lobbies and advocates for community groups.

The author of a report into paramilitary activity, John McBurney, said he believes Mr Stitt should be on a probationary period with the organisation.

He told the Good Morning Ulster programme that the loyalist should not have made the remarks.

'Stand-off'

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has also called on the Northern Ireland Executive to take action.

"It is effectively - in the public perception - a stand-off between the Northern Ireland Executive and the UDA, between democracy and paramilitarism."

"I'm am calling on the executive to say that there is a line in the sand after which there will be zero tolerance of paramilitary organisations."

On Wednesday, the Deputy First Minister, Mr McGuinness, said damage was being done to the reputation of worthwhile social investment projects as a result of Mr Stitt's involvement with Charter NI.

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