SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA has said that the deputy First Minister’s failure to act on Charter NI funding and the position of CEO Dee Stitt is a dereliction of duty.
Mr Eastwood has called on Martin McGuinness to end his silence and commit to the SDLP’s demand for a suspension of funding for Charter NI pending a full review of the organisation’s governance arrangements, including the role of Dee Stitt.
Stitt is a convicted gangster and a senior UDA figure who is also CEO of Charter NI.
His UDA boss Jimmy Birch sits on the board of Charter NI.
The SDLP leader said: “One year ago, the government came to the brink of collapse as a result of resurgent paramilitarism. The ‘Fresh Start’ agreement was supposed to tackle the insidious influence of paramilitary criminality in communities across the North.
“And yet now, far from taking down paramilitaries, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister continue to provide millions of pounds of public money to an organisation which is led by a self-confessed UDA boss.
“DUP Ministers have posed for photos, smiling smugly next to Dee Stitt and inside the Charter NI offices since this scandal emerged. Their abdication of responsibility has been consistent.
“Where is the deputy First Minister? Allocations under the Social Investment Fund require his express approval and yet, to date, he has failed to take any action to address the serious concerns about the role of Dee Stitt.
“We are continuing to call for an immediate suspension of public funding for Charter NI pending a review into its governance, including the role of Dee Stitt. That is the only ethical position. The deputy First Minister should commit to that.”
In a statement today, the Deputy First Minister responded by saying:
“It is clear that the controversy surrounding Mr Stitt is presenting real difficulties to the reputation and efforts of Charter NI.
“That is unfortunate given the good work which Charter NI and indeed the wider Social Investment Fund is involved in.
“In the interests of both, I believe Mr Stitt should now consider stepping aside.”