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Last Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Empey backs Ritchie over fund row
Sir Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey has backed Margaret Ritchie
Sir Reg Empey has backed the social development minister in her row with some executive colleagues over the move to cut funding to a UDA-linked project.

The UUP leader said some parties are trying to bring about a situation where Margaret Ritchie can be accused of breaking the ministerial code.

"I do not think she should be singled out from the herd in this way," Sir Reg said.

"And I see no reason whatsoever why we (the executive) forced this issue."

On Tuesday, Ms Ritchie announced her intention to cut 1.2m of funding to the project in the abscence of UDA decommissioning.

However, that decision has not yet been implemented as a termination notice is still being prepared.

It is understood the social development department has concerns about the legality of the move.

The minister said she was within her rights to cut the funding, and accused some colleagues of altering minutes of an executive meeting in a DUP/Sinn Fein carve up. Those parties criticised her remarks.

Ms Ritchie told the BBC's Hearts and Minds programme the minutes did not reflect the 8 October meeting.

Margaret Ritchie
Ms Ritchie claimed there was a Sinn Fein/DUP "carve up"

At issue is whether the executive had asked Ms Ritchie to seek legal advice over the issue of funding a UDA-linked project and share it - or whether, as the minutes passed suggest, she was supposed to report back and give other ministers time to consider the legal advice.

She told the BBC: "What I am saying is that what I and my executive colleagues agreed last Monday night changed, and we were presented late last night or early this morning with a draft minute which was substantially different from what we agreed."

Asked who she thought was responsible for this, Ms Ritchie said: "I think this represents the carve-up between the DUP and Sinn Fein."

In response the DUP's Nigel Dodds said: "Everybody accepts the aims and objectives that Margaret Ritchie has set out as far as paramlitarism is concerned as far as the UDA is concerned.

"We've got to go about this in a legal way, in a proper process, in a way in which the executive has laid down.

"And because Margaret Ritchie finds herself on the wrong end of the argument on that, then she resorts to all sorts of wild and scurrilous allegations."

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