DUP MP: ‘Stitt should not be Charter NI boss’

David Stitt, CEO of Charter NI, beside First Minister Arlene Foster in September 2016
David Stitt, CEO of Charter NI, beside First Minister Arlene Foster in September 2016

Leading loyalist and alleged UDA boss Dee Stitt should not be the CEO of publicly funded community group Charter NI, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Controversy over Mr Stitt’s position as CEO of Charter NI has followed an interview he gave to the Guardian newspaper in which he described the loyalist band North Down Defenders as “homeland security” and described working class areas as a “jungle”.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said that, in his view, Mr Stitt should not remain in his position.

“I can only express a personal opinion,” he told the BBC. “It’s a matter for Charter NI if he should remain the chief executive.”

Mr Donaldson did, however, praise the work done by the community group in east Belfast and warned against “condemning the work of an entire organisation because of the comments of one individual”.

He added: “I have criticised what he said. It is a matter for Charter NI. I do not support his comments in any way. I think they are highly regrettable. If I was in charge of Charter NI, I would not have him in charge in light of these comments but I am not in charge. Charter NI has a board and these things have to be done legally.”

He also defended DUP leader Arlene Foster for standing alongside Mr Stitt when a public funding announcement for Charter NI was made, saying she “would not have been aware of his comments” at the time.

He said: “The First Minister has supported the work of Charter NI because of its transformation efforts of communities in east Belfast and I am not going to condemn the work of an entire group of people because of the comments of one individual. I didn’t appoint him, nor did the First Minister, nor did the DUP. Charter NI has the DUP’s support.”

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon, meanwhile, has called for public funding of Charter NI to be suspended pending a full review of the organisation’s governance arrangements including comments made by Mr Stitt.

Ms Mallon yesterday submitted an urgent oral question to the first and deputy first ministers but it was rejected by the Assembly speaker. She said: “If this government is serious that ‘words and actions must go hand in hand’ then they must review this £1.7m arrangement as a matter of urgency and until we can be satisfied about the nature of the organisation’s management and relationships, funding should be suspended.

“Any other approach would be cowardice in the extreme.”