Robinson denies ‘Irish News’ boycott call

First Minister accuses newspaper of creating a ‘concocted’ controversy

First Minister Peter Robinson. He accused the newspaper of “concocting” a story to draw attention to itself after he said to journalists during an interview, “Stop reading the Irish News”.  Photograph: Eric Luke

First Minister Peter Robinson. He accused the newspaper of “concocting” a story to draw attention to itself after he said to journalists during an interview, “Stop reading the Irish News”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 06:03

First Minister Peter Robinson has insisted that he never called for a boycott of the Irish News following controversy over remarks he made last week about the Belfast -based nationalist newspaper.

He accused the newspaper of “concocting” a story to draw attention to itself after he said to journalists during an interview, “Stop reading the Irish News ”.

This latest spat between Mr Robinson and the Irish News arose from a doorstep by reporters at Belfast International Airport last Thursday after he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness returned from a 12-day trip to Brazil and the US.

In relation to some adverse local publicity about the Brazil trip, Mr Robinson said: “In terms of the worth of the visit we can close down the doors, we can pull the shutters down and we can have a ‘little Northerner’ attitude or we can reach out to the rest of the world.”

The Irish News had reported that Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness stayed in a five-star hotel that charged up to £650 a night and that the newspaper was unable to get details about the trip which was described as “secrecy- shrouded”.

Good relationship

Despite rumours of a rift between Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) over issues such as the flags controversy both men indicated that they had a good businesslike working relationship. It was in answer to a query from UTV about that relationship that Mr Robinson said: “Stop reading the Irish News ”.

The issue also led to the National Union of Journalists issuing a weekend statement calling on Mr Robinson to withdraw his remarks. It claimed they amounted to “calling for a boycott of a respected paper and its journalists for asking legitimate questions in the public interest”.

However, a DUP spokesman said yesterday that this was “a further pathetic attempt” by the Irish News to draw attention to itself. “At no time has the First Minister called for a boycott of any newspaper,” he said.

“His ‘stop reading the Irish News ’ comment was directed, in good humour, at a UTV journalist who had asked a question quoting an analysis that relationships in OFMDFM were ‘frosty’. Any sensible person who watched the UTV clip will know this is a concocted story.”

Mr Robinson’s relationship with the Irish News has been distinctly testy since it publicly became knowledge in January 2010 that his wife Iris had had an affair with a 19-year-old man. Since then Mr Robinson has refused to grant individual interviews to the newspaper.