More than 40 members of the North Down UDA mounted a display of paramilitary power in Bangor, County Down following police searches of loyalist Dee Stitt’s home and two other properties.
Despite a find of drugs and a taser stun gun, no arrests were made. Hours later around 40 men, some with their faces covered, marched around the Kilcooley estate led by Stitt, a self confessed UDA commander, who was described as being in an agitated state. The display was captured by a passing motorist and posted on social media.
Stitt is a controversial figure after receiving millions in ‘social investment funding’ from the Stormont power-sharing administration, with the support of the DUP and Sinn Fein.
DUP leader Arlene Foster was pictured alongside Stitt during the funding announcement, and the party retains strong support among UDA paramilitaries.
Stitt has made no attempt to conceal the ongoing paramilitary nature of loyalism in the area, describing one flute band he is involved with as “homeland security”.
In a related development, a Belfast-based journalist was this week threatened by the UDA, due to their reporting on UDA criminal activity.
National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said the journalist wishes to remain anonymous. The union said that journalists must be allowed to work “without fear of intimidation or threat of violence”.
“We understand this is a credible threat of violence, confirmed by the PSNI, and are therefore concerned for the safety of the journalist and those close to him,” said Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the NUJ.
Sinn Fein’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill condemned the threats.
“This threat should be lifted immediately and all political leaders should show support for this journalist. There is no place for UDA or any paramilitary group in our society. Needs to be challenged head on,” she said.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said: “Guaranteeing freedom of expression must be a cornerstone of Northern Ireland as a peaceful and just society.”
Sinn Fein Policing Spokesperson Gerry Kelly said that the UDA threat should be lifted immediately. And he said that political unionism has a responsibility to stand up to the paramilitary gang’s continued criminality.
“This latest threat demonstrates once again the UDA’s contempt for democracy, the peace process, law and order and to those exposing their brutal criminality,” he said.
“This threat must be challenged head-on by all political leaders as there is no place in this society for the UDA or any other paramilitary group.
“There is an onus on political unionism and on the DUP in particular to show leadership by rejecting the continued existence of the UDA and ending its cosy electoral relationship with a gang still engaged in murder, extortion, drug dealing and intimidation.”