A high-profile councillor has been criticised after claims he described regional newspaper journalists as “Provos”.
Cllr Henry Reilly, who is chairman of the UK Independence Party in Northern Ireland, has been urged to withdraw his comments which came at a meeting of Newry and Mourne District Council.
The National Union of Journalists has condemned his comments, saying they were “entirely unacceptable”.
However in a subsequent statement, reproduced in full below, Cllr Rilley has denied using the words attributed to him.
NUJ president Barry McCall said the journalists concerned had no right of reply at the meeting and should not have been subjected to verbal abuse.
He said: “He should clearly and unambiguously withdraw his description of the media as Provos. The media in the area serve the community and to imply that any of the publications represented at the meeting were linked with an illegal organisation was entirely unacceptable.”
The union said that Cllr Reilly made the comments during a debate on strip-searching in prisons, and, speaking in the third person, he said: “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 and Cllr Reilly said: “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 but he insisted he had made no charge against any individuals and said no precise apology was needed.
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley 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.
“Cllr Henry 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 disassociated 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”.
The term “Provos” is used to mean a member of the extremist faction of the Irish Republican Army.
- Since this story first appeared, Cllr Reilly has issued a statement calling on the NUJ to withdraw its allegations which is reproduced in full below.
He said: “I am extremely concerned and disappointed at the press release made by the NUJ regarding the Newry and Mourne Council business on the 8th April.
“The fact is that the journalists present sent a note to the Mayor of Council who was chairing the meeting indicating that they wanted clarification of comments I had made in response to a prepared statement claiming state brutality against remand prisoners that were made by a independent Republican Councillor.
“I stated my belief that the Council was becoming a venue for propagating Republican anti- state propaganda aided by the Provo press. The Mayor of Council John McCardle asked me to respond to the journalists.
“I made a clear and unambiguous statement that I DID NOT believe that any of the journalists present are ‘Provos’ . I also explained that there is a perception within the Unionist minority within Newry and Mourne District that the media is biased towards the Republican movement and that those concerns need addressed.
“When I finished my response to the journalists concerns the Mayor turned to the Journalists and stated. ‘ you have heard Councillor Reillys response to your concerns are you satisfied with his explanation’ the journalists had what appeared to be a brief consultation amongst themselves and the journalist who had handed the note to the Mayor of Council clearly stated ‘ yes, thank you’ and the meeting then proceeded.
“If the journalists had said that they were not satisfied I would have made a second response and done whatever was needed to satisfy their demands.
“I am very concerned that I was not given the opportunity to respond to the NUJ statement that has clearly damaged my reputation as a Councillor and put my life in danger from dissident Republican terrorists.
“This issue is very distressing for me as I have always been a staunch supporter of the independence of the local media and I have stood alone in the past to defend the journalistic integrity of individual journalists and newspapers when they were under vicious attack by other Councillors.
“It is a strange phenomenon that I have received virtually no coverage in the local papers since joining UKIP even though I topped the poll as a UKIP candidate. I have raised many issues of extreme concern to the local community that are ignored by the local press. This is area of concern for me. I have also contacted the NUJ to explain my concerns.