Ritchie 'not in full control' – McNarry

STORMONT Minister Margaret Ritchie has come under fire again, after she admitted not nailing down the financial implications of her decision to scrap the loyalist CTI project.

In answer to an Assembly question, by Ulster Unionist MLA David McNarry, she said: "I am not in a position to give exact costs of the termination of the project at this time."

"I am flabbergasted", said the UUP chief whip, who called the admission evidence of Ms Ritchie's generally poor handling of the Conflict Transformation Initiative.

In addition, Mr McNarry has established that Farset – the organisation overseeing the CTI scheme – has still not received written confirmation that the scheme is being ended – two weeks after the minister made an announcement.

Amid continued concern that the SDLP lady's decision to scrap the CTI may not be legally enforceable, Mr McNarry asked her three written Assembly questions.

Firstly, he requested that she detail what elements were contractually and legally binding within the CTI, which directly linked UDA decommissioning to funding by her department.

She answered: "The contract with regard to the CTI states that 'any evidence that there is not a sustained reduction in the level of paramilitary activity and anti-social behaviour associated may be considered as indicative that the project is not pursuing its identified outcomes'."

The UUP MLA said: "If her answer really is the sum total of her thinking then the minister is in deep trouble."

He did not think the line from the contract was watertight.

Mr McNarry also asked the minister about informing Farset of what was happening.

Ms Ritchie said her officials spoke with a representative of Farset but an official "termination notice is currently being prepared and will be sent to Farset in due course".

Mr McNarry said: "Clearly Ms Ritchie is all over the place and not in full control of her decisions.

"To date all she has relayed to Farset is the content of her announcement on October 16.

"Had this been an issue involving a company and trade union interests in the termination proceedings the minister would have been hauled over the coals for her handling of the matter."

Thirdly, Mr McNarry asked the minister to detail the exact costs or estimations of winding up the CTI.

She said: "I am not in a position to give exact costs of the termination of the project at this time. I can confirm the estimated normal project costs for one month are in the region of 37,000.

"I understand that Farset will seek some additional costs that they claim they have incurred in establishing this project. I have no information on what these costs are likely to be.

"Actual costs will be dependent on the terms of the termination of contract which is still being finalised."

The UUP MLA responded: "I am flabbergasted with the minister's reply. She has taken what looks like an independent, unilateral decision, yet she hasn't a clue on how much her action will cost nor does it appear she's even bothered to find out."

The 1.2 million CTI funding provides money for employment, skills and training support for loyalist communities over three years and was negotiated after the UDA/Ulster Political Research Group called on government to engage with Protestant working class areas.