Jim Allister: I regret sitting with UDA and UVF representatives

TUV leader Jim Allister (second from left) pictured between PUP and UPRG representatives at a public meeting of the Unionist Forum in 2013

TUV leader Jim Allister (second from left) pictured between PUP and UPRG representatives at a public meeting of the Unionist Forum in 2013

TUV leader Jim Allister has said that he now regrets sitting with the representatives of loyalist paramilitaries on a pan-unionist body set up by the DUP and UUP.

The veteran politician – who refuses to acknowledge Sinn Fein members – told the News Letter that he was sorry that he had “sullied” the distinction which he believes should exist between politicians and terrorist representatives.

TUV leader Jim Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister

In a live video interview with the News Letter today – which was streamed on our Facebook page and can be watched again HERE - Mr Allister was asked about the recent controversy around Charter NI, which is headed by alleged UDA boss Dee Stitt, receiving public money via DUP and Sinn Fein ministers.

When asked if it had been an error of judgement on Mrs Foster’s part to be photographed with Mr Stitt, Mr Allister said: “Of monumental proportions – I have no doubt.”

He said that Martin McGuinness had been accurate when he told the Assembly on Monday that the Social Investment Fund was “being delivered as intended”. Mr Allister argued that it had always been intended by the DUP and Sinn Fein to “keep sweet certain factions” by “throwing money at them”.

It was put to Mr Allister that he had also been pictured with those who BBC Spotlight has alleged to be loyalist paramilitary leaders.

The QC said that was “not by choice – I’ve been pictured with people I’d rather not have been pictured with, but I had no control over guest lists...I think the matter that you’re referring to is when I went to support the legitimate and necessary protest at Twaddell and I was photographed with other people who were there. That’s beyond my control.”

However, when it was put to the North Antrim MLA that he had sat alongside representatives of the UDA and UVF on the Unionist Forum after the flag protests, Mr Allister said: “I took part for the greater good in a forum which I now very much regret because it was what I suppose I should have known from the beginning a total waste of time...but yeah, I’m not perfect; I’ve never claimed to be perfect. I have regrets about matters and that would be one of them.”

When asked if his regret was that the forum was toothless or if it was that he had sat with the representatives of terrorist groups, Mr Allister said: “It’s both. It’s both that I sullied the clear line which I think should exist there [in dealing with terrorist groups] and that I was part of – and I lent my name to – a forum which in the end was a con.”

Mr Allister described May’s Assembly election – where the TUV polled less than 24,000 votes – as “disappointing”.

But the North Antrim MLA gave no hint that he is considering early retirement from politics or a return to his career as a QC, saying “retirement is not on my mind”. He suggested that if the EU referendum had come before May’s election “and people had discovered that their voice could be heard” it may have been to the benefit of his party, leading to greater appetite for “draining the swamp of Stormont”. He blamed the DUP for a “con” of telling people to vote for them to keep Sinn Fein out.

Mr Allister admitted to being “frustrated” by people who urge him to continue his work at Stormont but then admit that they haven’t voted TUV, saying that for some of those who do not vote for his party he is “some sort of comfort blanket”.

The TUV leader welcomed Donald Trump’s election as US President earlier this month, despite reservations about some of his conduct – and cited the importance of conservative judges being put on the US Supreme Court.

However, Mr Allister put a degree of distance between himself and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is now seen as a potential French President.

He said: “I knew Marine Le Pen when I was a MEP in the sense that she was also a Member of the European Parliament so at relatively close quarters I saw her perform in the Parliament.

“She’s fairly able, but she would seem to have affinity and baggage which I would be very uncomfortable with.”

++ The full video interview can be watched again here: https://www.facebook.com/belfastnewsletter/videos/1345035852182360/?pnref=story ++