The President of the National Union of Journalists has called on the Chairman of the UK Independence Party in Northern Ireland Cllr Henry Reilly “to clearly and unambiguously” withdraw his description of the local media in Armagh and Down as “Provos.”
The President, Barry McCall said he was shocked and dismayed at the attack on local journalists made last night (April 8th) at a meeting of Newry and Mourne District Council and at the unwarranted accusation of bias against professional journalists employed by newspapers serving their local communities.
Cllr Reilly made his comments during a debate on strip-searching in prisons arising from a motion tabled by fellow councillor Davy Hyland.
During the debate Cllr Reilly, speaking in the third person, declared, “The press, looking at Reilly with disgust when he talks, they are Provos too probably”.
In response to a request from fellow councillors he declined to fully withdraw the remarks Cllr Reilly declared: “I haven’t called the press…any particular journalist a Provo. I will make generalised statements that some papers have a nationalist/republican bias. It is a commonly held perception among the unionist community.”
The five journalists in attendance presented Mayor John McArdle with a signed request for Cllr Reilly to withdraw the remarks. Cllr Reilly insisted that he had made no charge against any individuals and therefore no precise apology was needed.
Mr McCall said the journalists concerned had no right of reply at the meeting and should not have been subjected to verbal abuse by Mr Reilly. “He should clearly and unambiguously withdraw his description of the media as Provos. The media in the area serves the community and to imply that any of the publications represented at the meeting were linked with an illegal organisation was entirely unacceptable,” Mr McCall said.
Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary, NUJ also strongly condemned the comments made by Cllr Reilly.
He said: “This is an outrageous attack on the local media which should not go unchallenged. Elected representatives need to be mindful of the potential implications of public utterances of this type. Mr Reilly has abused his position and failed to avail of the opportunity given to withdraw his statement. He occupies a leadership position with UKIP Northern Ireland and I call on the party’s MLA David McNarry to disassociate himself from the comments of Cllr Reilly. As a public representative Cllr Reilly is entitled to express strong opinions but not in a manner which is unacceptable or seeks to tarnish the reputation of individuals.”