Irish Republican News · October 8, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
UDA marches towards the millions


New UDA murals are being erected as millions of pounds of public funds are funnelled by the Stormont administration to a group closely linked to the loyalist paramilitary organisation, it has emerged.

Last week it was revealed that a 1.7 million pounds “investment fund” is to be managed by reputed loyalist paramilitaries.

Jimmy Birch and Dee Stitt, both associated with the UDA leadership, hold senior positions in ‘Charter NI’, which has been handed control of the money and will decide how it is distributed in east Belfast. Birch’s wife also works as a project manager for the group.

Questions have been raised as to why such funds are being directed by Stormont to a body headed up by prominent paramilitary figures, even as the organisation continues to engage in extortion, feuding and sectarian intimidation.

Stitt, understood to be a self-confessed UDA member from Bangor, has been embroiled in a series of recent scandals, including claims that a bonfire in the town was used as leverage to extract funding from the local council. There have also been paramilitary-style attacks, including a hammer attack on a local community worker, carried out by the UDA in Bangor over the last year.

Announcing the funding, First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster was pictured standing beside Stitt. She said the project “is bringing about social change in parts of Northern Ireland that are suffering from real disadvantage and giving people a helping hand to make the most of their potential.”

SDLP representative Claire Hanna said the payment of such a large amount of taxpayers’ money given to Charter NI was “seriously concerning” and described it as an “invite-only slush fund”.

“Charter NI is inextricably linked with the UDA,” she said. “How could have anyone have confidence to deal with such an organisation?”

This week a BBC Spotlight programme raised questions about why the reputed headquarters of the UDA in west Belfast is also receiving funding from Stormont. A DUP minister and four party colleagues visited the “community office” in the Shankill Road less than 24 hours later after the documentary was broadcast, and posed for pictures.

Meanwhile, new murals have appeared in honour of loyalist sectarian killers, again with the apparent support of the Stormont administration.

The Housing Executive has refused to explain why it failed to stop the building of a new memorial honouring a notorious UDA killer in west Belfast.

The new brick memorial has been constructed on the housing body’s land in west Belfast’s Shankill area in memory of Stephen McKeag.

Nicknamed ‘Top Gun’, McKeag was considered one of the most dangerous men in the north during the 1990s and was linked to numerous sectarian murders. The 30-year-old died on September 24, 2000 of a drugs overdose.

A new UDA mural has also appeared in Lurgan, County Armagh. The mural features images and details about former leaders John McMichael and Andy Tyrie.

One nearby householder described feeling “sick, scared and defeated” after being unable to get assistance from council authorities.

“[The police] told my neighbours that they were fully sanctioned by the council, permission was given. They said they were building a First World War memorial,” he said.

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© 2016 Irish Republican News