McGuinness defends UDA linked funding

Martin McGuinness. Photo: Pacemaker

Martin McGuinness. Photo: Pacemaker

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has defended the allocation of almost £2 million of social investment funding to Charter NI.

He said schemes underpinned by Executive money were of immense value to local communities and helped get the unemployed back to work.

The Sinn Fein politician denied it was a slush fund for paramilitaries.

Mr McGuinness commented: “If we were to be employing a rule of thumb that everybody who was involved in conflict in the past has no role to play in the future then I am afraid there would be no future for any of us.”

Some funding from Stormont is reportedly going to organisations linked to the UDA.

Mr McGuinness said: “It is people at grassroots level deciding what is best to meet the needs of their own community.

“People have seized on the situation and on one person in East Belfast but I think that does a grave disservice to the good and decent people right throughout the country who are working daily to ensure that the lives of the people in the community that they come from are enriched by delivering valuable programmes.

“So let’s get away from the nonsense that this is directed at paramilitaries.

“This is directed at communities and the communities are the people who are making the decisions.”

He said steering groups overseeing spending of the money had a wide range of representation to ensure safeguards and auditing processes were in place.

He said they were giving work opportunities for the previously unemployed.

The Deputy First Minister added: “As far as I am concerned that is a valuable programme and if people are contributing to that in a positive way alongside other representatives from the community I think that is something to be welcomed.”

The SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister have raised concerns about how the money has been distributed.