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UDA/Charter NI

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 17th October 2016.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker 2:30 pm, 17th October 2016

T4. Mr McGlone asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister, in the hope of an answer this time, to state the extent of the involvement of the UDA with Charter NI. (AQT 339/16-21)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

We have extensively covered that question in the proceedings today. I am disappointed that the Member thinks that the question was not answered, but, in my opinion, it was answered adequately. We put in place a SIF programme that has been of immense benefit to people all over the North of Ireland. The Member's party, from the outset, was opposed to it, describing it as a slush fund for paramilitaries, which does a massive disservice to all the good people throughout the North of Ireland who, day and daily, make a contribution to making life better for the people in their communities.

They have seized on one issue in east Belfast. Nobody is questioning the bona fides of the Charter group, which is charged with taking forward that aspect of the SIF programme in east Belfast. Nobody has questioned their bona fides whatsoever. They have seized on the name of one person who was convicted in the past, but that raises a wider question: if we were to disbar people who were convicted of incidents that occurred during the conflict from contributing to society, we would be running against the recommendations of the three-person panel, which dealt with that issue of reintegrating people into society. It was also about asking the First Minister and me to write to the US authorities so that people who were being denied a visa could visit the United States. In many ways, this represents a cheap, point-scoring exercise, mainly at the expense of the —

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

It is at the expense of local communities.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I thank the Minister for that answer. I do not regard my question as cheap. Is he aware of allegations that people have been forced onto the streets due to having drug debts to the UDA?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I have no doubt that there are people in paramilitary organisations involved in that type of activity. I am also conscious of the so-called dissident groups in west Belfast who, day and daily, extort money from the business community in that area, as they have done in other parts of the North of Ireland. It should come as no surprise to anybody — it comes as no surprise to me — that there are still people who are active in the UDA and dissident groups who prey on society. The question is whether the people who are involved in the implementation of the SIF programme in east Belfast are doing so in a way that ensures that every penny of that money goes towards the cause that they have taken up in that area. In this instance, 300 people will be given work placements with a real prospect of getting a full-time job afterwards.