The President of the National Union of Journalists Barry McCall 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”. He said he was shocked and dismayed at the attack on local journalists made last night (Monday 8th April) 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 Henry Reilly UKIP
Cllr Henry Reilly made his comments during a debate on strip-searching in prisons arising from a motion tabled by Cllr Davy Hyland. During the debate Cllr Henry 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 and Cllr Henry 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 Henry Reilly to withdraw the remarks. Cllr Henry Reilly insisted that he had made no charge against any individuals and therefore no precise apology was needed.
The NUJ President said the journalists concerned had no right of reply at the meeting and should not have been subjected to verbal abuse by Cllr Henry Reilly. “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.”
NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley also strongly condemned the comments made and 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 Henry Reilly. As a public representative he is entitled to express strong opinions but not in a manner which is unacceptable or seeks to tarnish the reputation of individuals”.