Charter NI tainted by Stitt

Posted By: October 25, 2016

Irish News Editorial (Belfast). Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The disturbing saga of the publicly funded body Charter NI has taken a number of twists since this newspaper first revealed almost a month ago that it was under the management of individuals directly linked to the illegal Ulster Defence Association.

It needs to be stressed that attempts to promote employment schemes in deprived areas are of considerable importance and it is inevitable that a number of those involved in the wider process may have some form of previous Loyalist or Republican connections.

However, a line is crossed when a figure with a background like that of Dee Stitt can be installed as chief executive of a group which is maintained by the taxpayer and then make provocative and indeed threatening remarks about his role.

The convicted gunman was videoed describing the loyalist band which he runs as “our homeland security”, proclaiming “We are here to defend north Down from anybody”, and going on to praise the so-called community work of loyalist paramilitaries.

Stitt, who is widely regarded as the leader of the UDA in north Down, a district where the organisation remains heavily involved in extortion and other criminal activities, also said that “the British government doesn’t give a f***ing f*** about us”.

Before Stitt’s outburst was reported, he was pictured with the DUP leader Arlene Foster at the announcement in east Belfast of a £1.7 million employability project to be managed by Charter NI.

DUP representatives initially offered non-committal responses to the Stitt tape until Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, in what he described as a personal opinion, said the statements which had emerged were “highly regrettable”.

The Lagan Valley MP said yesterday that Stitt’s status was a matter for Charter NI but declared firmly: “I would not have him as my chief executive in the light of those comments.”

While Charter NI has so far declined to clarify its own stance on the issue, there will be a growing feeling that Stitt, through his own words, has been left in a completely untenable position.

Projects which are backed by the Social Investment Fund, and are intended to provide opportunities for unemployed, poorly paid or low skilled people, deserve to be given every chance to prove their worth but must realize that their structures need to be kept under close scrutiny.

Charter NI should accept that it cannot be tainted by a continuing high level association with Stitt if it is to achieve its objectives in the years ahead.