The editor of Belfast-based daily The Irish News has threatened to sue the weekly North Belfast News after it carried “grossly offensive” allegations about his paper.
Both papers have a predominantly Catholic readership.
The weekly title, which has a circulation of 5,708, printed a letter in which Pat Irvine, who lost her mother in a notorious terrorist bombing, criticised The Irish News for “refusing” to print her letters.
She also claimed The Irish News, with a circulation of 50,000, had repeated the “lies told by the police and government” that the bombing was an “own goal” by the IRA.
The 1971 bombing of McGurk’s bar killed 15 people and was eventually blamed on a member of the Loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force.
Irvine claimed she had twice presented The Irish News with letters about the bombing, which had not been printed.
Irish News editor Noel Doran said his paper had carried a full interview with Irvine on 3 December, 2001, and he criticised the North Belfast News for not contacting his publication before making its allegations.
He said: “It is difficult to imagine a more serious allegation, given that the McGurk’s bombing was one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles and took place almost within sight of our head office.”
Doran said that on the day after the bomb, the front-page headline of his paper was “Empire loyalists take blame for 15-death bar blast”.
He said: “We have consistently said that it was a loyalist bombing.”
North Belfast News editor Mairtin O’Muilleoir said: “It is unusual for one newspaper to reach for the lawyers rather that take up the right of reply which we are happy to give it. This woman lost her mother in the McGurk’s bombing and was unable to get The Irish News to publish a letter.
She’s from North Belfast and she had some things she wanted to say so she said them in the North Belfast News.
“It was one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles and if someone who is a victim of that bombing has something to say, it’s difficult to say we will not let them.
“The Irish News should have been given proper notice of the coverage. If it wasn’t contacted it should have been and we will hold our hand up to that.”
By Dominic Ponsford