Prominent loyalist Dee Stitt has appeared to admit that a publicly funded loyalist flute band is engaged in paramilitary activity.
The North Down UDA leader (pictured, right), who is also chief executive of a multi-million government funded “community group”, was recorded boasting about the “brilliant” work carried out by militant loyalist groups such as the flute band North Down Defenders.
“It says it in its name, we are here to defend north Down,” the convicted armed robber says in a video produced by the Guardian. “From anybody,” he added, laughing.
Stitt’s organisation, Charter NI, has received over 1.7 million pounds of funding from Stormont’s Social Investment Fund.
The funding is supposedly used to manage an employment project based in the area but there are concerns that is being handed to paramilitary groups who continue to be involved in criminality and intimidation in north Down.
In the video, Stitt praised the so-called community work of loyalist paramilitaries, and described working class estates as “jungles” which need a “big guy”.
Before the video emerged, he was pictured with the DUP leader and the North’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, at the announcement in east Belfast of a two million euro grant for his organisation, Charter NI.
Foster has said she has no regrets about being pictured alongside the convicted armed robber.
“We went down to celebrate the fact that Charter NI, which has been in existence for 10 years, had won a contract to deliver employability services into the community in east Belfast,” the DUP leader said.
When asked whether Stitt was a good role model for the young men the scheme was trying to help, the first minister responded: “People are on a journey in these communities, I think it’s important that we encourage people to leave paramilitarism behind.”
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said Mrs Foster’s response was “vintage DUP” and urged Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness to make a statement on the issue. She also criticised British governor James Brokenshire for failing to comment.
Alliance assembly member Stephen Farry said the first minister must have known who Dee Stitt was before the photo was taken.
“The DUP have been actively seeking to fund Charter NI through a range of means over the past number of years,” he said. “The continued arrogance of the DUP and its leader to continue to seek to defend the indefensible, and the failure of some others in authority to sufficiently call them out on it, risks undermining the credibility of the Fresh Start agreement commitment to tackle and disband paramilitaries.”