Northern Ireland

PSNI chief Charter NI claim 'unprecedented'

Charter for Northern Ireland is based on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Charter NI is based on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast

The chief constable's statement that people linked to Charter NI have been involved in recent paramilitarism is unprecedented, an Alliance MLA has said.

Charter NI, an east Belfast community organisation, received £1.7m from Stormont's Social Investment Fund.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin claimed some in Charter NI had "connections" to the UDA.

George Hamilton stood by the claim after meeting the first minister.

Image caption Stephen Farry said the chief constable's affirmation of the police's claim about Charter NI was 'unprecedented'

Stephen Farry said that he had never heard a chief constable "come out and so clearly say there is an active paramilitary or paramilitaries involved in a community sector organisation in receipt of government funds and for a government not to follow through on that".

Last week, ACC Martin told The Nolan Show that these individuals had taken part in paramilitary activity "in the past year".

The executive said after Monday's meeting that the PSNI has assured that there are "no concerns" over the work of Charter NI.

However, Mr Hamilton said ACC Martin's comments were "an accurate assessment of the PSNI's position".

"At an operational and community level Charter NI do some very meaningful and positive work.

Image caption SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon said the statements from the executive and the PSNI were puzzling

"However, it remains our view that an individual or individuals connected to that organisation continue to be associated with paramilitarism."

SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon said that the two statements were puzzling and that "you could be forgiven for thinking that you were reading about two very different meetings".

"The meeting was an opportunity for the chief constable of the PSNI to give a security briefing about individuals who are active paramilitaries connected to Charter NI but the statement from the Executive Office made absolutely no reference or mention to that issue at all."

On Monday, the first minister said her position was that if the police have "evidence against any individuals then they should be arrested by the police, investigated, charged and brought before the courts".

Image caption Charter NI boss, Dee Stitt, was recently pictured with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster

The board of Charter NI said ACC Martin's comments had "come as a surprise" and they added: "We do not condone illegal or criminal activity of any kind".

The community organisation has been under scrutiny since October, when its chief executive Dee Stitt gave a controversial interview to the Guardian newspaper.

Mr Stitt, a leading member of the UDA, referred to his loyalist band the North Down Defenders as "our homeland security" who were "here to defend North Down from anybody".

He also launched a foul-mouthed verbal attack on the government, saying politicians did not care about Northern Ireland.

Mr Stitt later apologised for his comments and took a three-week break from his role while Charter NI completed an "internal review process", but he resumed his job in November.

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