The PSNI says that public interest allowed it to openly link a community group to the UDA – but that it would not be appropriate to say whether a list of other groups might be linked to PIRA.
The query has been raised after BBC Spotlight carried a fresh expose of links between loyalist terrorism and north Down community group Charter NI.
In March ACC Stephen Martin said that people linked to Charter NI were connected to active UDA members. Mr Martin told the Nolan Show: “Certainly there are, there may be an individual or individuals connected to Charter who have certainly been recently active. “Charter as an organisation, we have seen, do good work on the ground but clearly there are connections within that organisation to the UDA.”
Chief Constable George Hamilton later defended his assessment.
But after the PSNI comments, TUV leader Jim Allister provided the News Letter with a list of five other organisations which he felt could have similarly strong links to active PIRA members, as well as the UVF and UDA.
He said that in one recent financial year, one group potentially linked to PIRA criminality had been given almost £4m of public funds while another received over £2m.
According to the 2015 assessment on paramilitary activity commissioned by the secretary of state, PIRA structures continue “in much reduced form” and individual members continue to be involved “in large scale smuggling”.
The News Letter provided the list of organisations to ACC Martin and the chief constable and asked if they would similarly confirm or deny Mr Allister’s concerns that active PIRA members, or UVF and UDA members, may be involved in them. However, the PSNI declined to do so.
ACC Martin said: “The comments I made on the BBC’s Nolan television programme in December 2016 were made against the backcloth of significant public, political and media interest in Charter NI and one of their employees.
“It would not, however, be appropriate for PSNI to provide an assessment of individuals in organisations across Northern Ireland.
“I would like to reassure the public that PSNI’s role is to keep people safe and we are committed to tackling paramilitarism.”
But Mr Allister challenged the PSNI, saying its response “beggars belief”.
“It beggars belief that the PSNI would claim that they cannot comment on the status of individuals associated with groups receiving such large sums of public funding,” he said. “The police were able to comment unambiguously when it came to Charter NI so why not in these cases?
“I think PSNI was right to point the finger at the UDA, but it must not be selective.”