Foster and Hamilton discuss Charter NI UDA links

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton attended Mondays meeting
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton attended Mondays meeting

PSNI claims that a publicly funded community group is linked to the UDA have been discussed at talks between the chief constable and first minister.

The meeting was held following the Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin’s comments, made during a BBC radio interview, that east Belfast community organisation Charter NI has links to the UDA.

During the interview, Mr Martin said: “Charter as an organisation, we have seen, do good work on the ground but clearly there are connections within that organisation to the UDA.”

Charter NI recently received £1.7m in public money, drawn from the Assembly’s Social Investment Fund.

The group has come under scrutiny since October, when chief executive Dee Stitt referred in an interview with the Guardian to his loyalist band the North Down Defenders as “homeland security”.

Monday’s meeting between George Hamilton and Arlene Foster was also attended by Justice Minister Claire Sugden and Health Minister Michelle O’Neill, who was standing in for Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Following the talks, an Executive Office spokesperson said ministers were given an assurance that the PSNI had “no concerns about the work of Charter NI” and would “continue to work with” the community group.

The spokesperson continued: “We have made clear that where there is any evidence of criminal activity, police should investigate thoroughly and bring those responsible before the courts. Courts and jail are the only place for anyone involved in paramilitarism.

“We have also emphasised that any individuals associated with Charter NI or any community enterprise must make a clear choice between paramilitarism and legitimate community work. There can be no acceptance of or ambivalence towards illegal activity.”