Journalist ‘very sorry’ for causing offence in Larne

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A JOURNALIST has told Larne Borough Council he meant no offence after a newspaper published two articles which have been described as “cruel” and “hurtful” to local people.

Appearing in The (London) Times on Monday, June 4, an article which bore the headline “Torch goes head to head with the jubilee”, detailed the celebrations that took place in Glynn as the Olympic Torch passed through the borough on June 3.

The author, Roger Boyes, described the village as a “Protestant heartland” and claimed there were “no Catholics” living in the village. “‘No Surrender’ was painted on the road in six-foot letters, ‘God Bless Our Queen’. That is ‘ours’ as in ‘not yours’,” the report added.

Following the relay into Larne, Mr Boyes recounted the moment when the torch arrived at the crown feature on Circular Road roundabout – a structure that was erected to commemorate the diamond jubilee.

A local “vicar” was quoted as saying: “There are those who don’t think it (the crown) will last until Tuesday.” He also told the author that Larne was 30 per cent Roman Catholic.

Mr Boyes added: “He said it as if Catholics were a subversive Fifth Column. And as if every one of them had been counted.”

A second article, published the following day, carried the headline “Torch crosses religious divide”. Again penned by Mr Boyes, it contained a reference to Glynn as being a “100 per cent Protestant township”.

Alliance member John Mathews branded the articles “unjust, cruel and deliberately destructive”, while Alderman Roy Beggs asked the local authority to send a letter of complaint to the editor of the paper on behalf of Glynn Community Association.

The UUP man also urged the council to contact the Press Complaints Commission on the grounds that the articles contained “inaccuracies, projected a negative tone and gave the impression that there was a preconceived opinion”.

Now, months after the articles were published, the council has received a letter from Mr Boyes, claiming there was “no intent on my part to damage the standing of Larne”.

Mr Boyes added that he was “very sorry to hear” that the council was offended by his articles and sought to offer an explanation for his views.

“I was sent to report and comment on the Northern Ireland leg of the relay shortly after returning to London from 35 years spent abroad as a foreign correspondent,” he added. “The last time I visited NI was during the Troubles and, of course, it was a different place.

“But after all those years away (covering the fall of communism, the war in Bosnia) I had expected, naively, that all the outstanding problems might have been solved. Well, I don’t think they have.

“I can see though that this is a bottle half-full/half-empty situation. Larne Council sees fantastic progress and is proud of it, whereas I was just struck, in my trip around the Province, by the work still to be done.”

Despite this, Mr Boyes conceded that his viewpoint was “very unfair” and added he would happily take up the local authority’s offer of returning to Larne, spending more time here and perhaps writing about his experience.

He also said he had enjoyed the hospitality offered by the people of Glynn during his visit, and also enjoyed talking to local people.

Mr Boyes further explained why it had taken so long for his letter of response to reach the council: “I’m afraid this letter might have to take a roundabout route to you, since I am based in Moscow.”

Alderman Beggs suggested that an invitation be extended to Mr Boyes to return to the borough.