East Antrim Alliance MLA, Stewart Dickson, has restated his belief that the operation of the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF) “Has been characterised by secrecy and cronyism”, and that “the truth is only slowly coming out”.
Mr Dickson was speaking after the broadcast of a BBC Spotlight Programme which showed documents alleging the Assembly Speaker, Robin Newton MLA, misled the Assembly over his role with Charter NI, acting as adviser to the SIF-funded group, despite stating to the Assembly Chamber he held no such position.
Mr Dickson remarked: “In December 2016 an Alliance motion calling for an independent review into the scheme was defeated in the Assembly Chamber 53-38. It was no surprise the motion didn't pass, but it didn't change the vast public concern around SIF. Rather than starting from scratch now, we could have laid the groundwork then for making sure this never happens again if that motion had passed.
"Furthermore, if the allegations in this Spotlight programme are true, and judging by the documents unveiled on the programme, they are, then the Speaker has no option but to resign his role with immediate effect.
"Indeed in at least one respect the ongoing association of DUP representatives, including the DUP Leader Arlene Foster, with a current paramilitary as Chief Executive of Charter NI has undermined the credibility of the party’s commitment to tackle paramilitarism.
"In terms of the principle of good governance, quite simply it is a disaster."
"Alliance recognises, and welcomes, people with a paramilitary past playing a positive and constructive role in society. However, when people are still involved in paramilitary activity, there is a problem.
"We need to look again at a meaningful paramilitary strategy which has genuine aspirations to end paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. Paramilitarism and organised crime continue to harm our communities and some parties seem disinterested in solving the problem.
“We wrote to the Audit Office in the summer and they are now investigating the matter. So we now look forward to finding out the facts, and how to put in place the necessary checks, to prevent such a shameful situation happening again.”