The chairman of a news group whose staff are going on strike this week has said he knows “nothing about it”.
Lord Kilclooney, a former UUP MP and now a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, has been chairman of Alpha Newspapers Ltd since 1974.
According to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), in 1999 senior reporters at Alpha titles were being paid £15,000 per year.
Its spokesperson said that today senior reporters, some with five years’ experience, are still being paid the same sum.
The NUJ said the strike centres on union recognition as well as pay.
It will take place from Thursday April 21 to Monday April 25.
In a statement it said: “It is inconceivable that an employer can be left unchallenged when it pays wages from the last century.
“This strike is to ensure that once again journalists in these newspapers have a union agreement that delivers fairness in pay, fairness in working hours and fairness in all aspects of their working life.”
When the News Letter contacted Lord Kilclooney about the strike, he said: “Oh, I know nothing about it.”
He said he had just returned from England, and that “we have a meeting next week, ok?”
The News Letter offered to provide some of the facts about the upcoming industrial action, to which he replied: “You needn’t bother.”
He said he wished to “get the facts from the company first”.
An attempt was then made to gauge his reaction to the NUJ’s assertions about reporters’ salaries, and about the fact that the union has contrasted their pay with his own fortune (a list of Ireland’s richest people, published by the Irish Independent in 2010, said he was worth around 49m euro).
However, the line went dead.
The titles taking part in the strike are the Antrim Guardian, Ballymena Guardian, Coleraine Chronicle, Ballymoney Chronicle, County Down Outlook, Northern Constitution, Newry Democrat, Tyrone Courier and Ulster Gazette (however The Ballymena Guardian will only be on strike on Thursday).