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fears Loyalist leaders worry anti-Protocol violence may torpedo community funding

Harmless’ Harry Stockman took early retirement from Shorts to take up £30,000-a-year community initiative post

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David 'Dee' Stitt Pic: Pacemaker

David 'Dee' Stitt Pic: Pacemaker

David 'Dee' Stitt Pic: Pacemaker

Community leaders in loyalist areas are becoming increasingly fearful paramilitary activity around the anti-Protocol campaign will see the government pull the plug on funding.

The decision last week by the Irish government to order an audit on all grant aid paid out to community groups since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement has set alarm bells ringing in the community group sector.

The overwhelming number of organisations working at ground level in the community are beyond reproach but there is concern that the presence of senior paramilitary figures in some groups could put funding in jeopardy.

People such as ‘Harmless’ Harry Stockman, according to sources served as the UVF’s second in command, who took an early retirement package from Shorts to take up a £30,000-a-year post with a community initiative.

Other senior figures such North Down UDA commander Dee Stitt and alleged East Belfast Brigadier Jimmy Birch are among a raft of loyalist paramilitary overseeing the spending of public money at a time when their organisations are involved in civic disruption and organised crime.

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Jimmy Birch Pic: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Jimmy Birch Pic: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Jimmy Birch Pic: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Stitt has previously claimed he is no longer a member of the UDA.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said there was no indication that the British government was planning an audit but warned community funding was kept under constant review.

“The UK government provides the Northern Ireland Executive with funding to deliver public services, including support for community groups in Northern Ireland.

“Devolved administrations are fully accountable for the proper control and management of their public expenditure allocation.

“For all UK government funding provided directly the appropriate oversight and governance arrangements are in place to ensure value for money.”

With the Irish government demanding every cent sent north is accounted for, there are fears a huge question mark hangs over community funding.

Political sources in Dublin point that one of the mainstays of community funding in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement was to aid in the rehabilitation of terrorists prisoners released under the terms of the deal. “It (funding) was in part aimed at helping people who otherwise were virtually unemployable whether that was in the form of job training or giving opportunities to those committed to peace to contribute to their communities.

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“On the whole that is what has been achieved but questions have to be asked about those in publicly funded jobs who are still at it, active in paramilitary activity.”

The Sunday World understands senior loyalist figures including Stockman have held meetings with groups in republican areas over concerns about funding.

Political concern is also growing that paramilitary activity around the anti-Protocol campaign will undermine electoral support for unionist parties.

The hoax bomb attack on Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney carried out by the UVF’s B Company, and the organisation’s threat to escalate their campaign rattled political parties who are anxious not to be associated with civic disruption.

The UVF was also behind a security scare that closed the north-south rail link.

The appearance of Doug Beattie’s election poster with a noose around his neck ramped tensions up even further.

It has sparked rumours that mainstream unionist politicians are now reluctant to share a platform with the likes of PUP leader Billy Hutchinson because of his party’s connections with the UVF and his own terrorist history.

It is only a few short months since the four unionist political leaders attempted a show of unity in opposing the Irish Sea border.

That show of unity now lies in tatters, with TUV chief Jim Allister constantly attacking the DUP, and Doug Beattie stating his party will no longer attend anti-Protocol rallies because he believes they are stoking civic unrest.

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