Northern Ireland

Dee Stitt: Loyalist accuses Arlene Foster of "ruining his street cred"

Dee Stitt and Arlene Foster
Image caption Dee Stitt pictured with Arlene Foster in 2016

Leading UDA member Dee Stitt has accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of "ruining his street cred".

Speaking after he resigned as the chief executive of Charter NI, Mr Stitt said he would not pose for a photo with Mrs Foster again.

He was referring to a photograph with the then first minister after Charter NI received £1.7m from Stormont.

BBC News NI has contacted the DUP for a response.

Charter NI is a community-based organisation in east Belfast, set up in 2000, which aims to provide people with training and employment opportunities.

Mr Stitt had been under growing pressure to step aside after his paramilitary connections were revealed.

'Hindsight is a wonderful thing'

Mr Stitt told BBC News NI he would "absolutely not" pose for a photograph with the DUP leader if asked to do so again and said Mrs Foster "wouldn't be at the top of my Christmas card list".

"Did she ruin my street cred? Of course she did," he said.

"Would I do it if I could go back again? Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Mr Stitt said the decision to resign as CEO was due to the impact on his family of "media coverage".

"I'm a strong character - I came through conflict all my life, I was fighting during the conflict for 30 years - but the bottom line is that it's not all about me," he said.

"I still work for Charter NI and I love being a part of it and the projects we do, but I was just waiting for the right time to resign from my role as CEO.

"The media coverage doesn't affect me but it does affect my family and that has an impact on me," added Mr Stitt.

Image caption Charter NI received a £1.7 million grant from the Stormont Executive

In a statement, Charter NI said "negative media attention has been a great strain on David and his family" and thanked him for his "commitment and dedication through difficult times".

The leading UDA member will remain within Charter NI as a project manager with a programme for ex-prisoners.

Previous controversies

The UDA was formed in 1971 as an umbrella group for a variety of loyalist groups. At its peak it had tens of thousands of members and was the largest of the loyalist paramilitary organisations.

In November 2016 Mr Stitt apologised for saying the UK government does not care about Northern Ireland and describing the loyalist North Down Defenders band as "our homeland security".

The board of Charter NI said at the time that it was "deeply disappointed with and greatly concerned" by the article in the Guardian newspaper but added it was "addressing this matter internally".

The interview took place shortly after it emerged that the Northern Ireland Executive had awarded a £1.7m grant to Charter NI while Mr Stitt was CEO.

The money came from Stormont's Social Investment Fund (SIF).

The SDLP said at the time that Mr Stitt "needs to go" while DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he would "not have him as my chief executive".

Mr Stitt has previously challenged allegations that he was a UDA commander.

"To the best of my knowledge, none of these allegations has been supported by evidence being presented to the PSNI," he told the Nolan Show.

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