Arlene Foster has declined to say that she regretted being pictured with an alleged UDA boss who headed up a body to which she had given £1.7 million of public money.
Dee Stitt, who is chief executive of Charter NI, has been the subject of very serious allegations by BBC Spotlight.
When asked if she regretted being photographed with Mr Stitt, Mrs Foster said: “As I understand it, Dee Stitt is stepping down as CEO of Charter. I don’t regret being photographed in terms of the Charter scheme because I actually believe that the scheme – and one of the difficulties around all of the noise about Dee Stitt is that the fact that the employability scheme has not really got the attention that it should have got.”
She added: “Charter NI have a very strong board, it’s been in existence for 10 years, they passed all the tests in terms of governmental issues and I suppose it is a bit frustrating that the story became about Dee Stitt as opposed to what the scheme was doing in east Belfast.”
It was put to Mrs Foster that the first minister standing alongside a man who is alleged to be an active UDA brigadier was obviously going to be newsworthy. She said: “You know what, I don’t tell organisations who to appoint as their chief executives.”
When it was put to Mrs Foster that she does decide to give them money, she said: “I do and I think they will deliver on that in terms of Charter NI. Dee Stitt’s not the only person in Charter NI; they will deliver a good scheme ... I’ve no concerns about the money that is going.”
When asked if she welcomed rumours that Mr Stitt is to stand down, she said: “I do welcome the fact that he is stepping down because I think that he became the story. Charter NI is much, much broader than Dee Stitt.”