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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Press Group.

Wednesday, 28 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 462 No. 3

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 7. Mrs. O'Rourke Information on Mary O'Rourke Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton  the plans, if any, he has to ensure that the vacuum left by the Irish Press Group is filled; the contact, if any, he has had with the former Irish Press management or Independent Newspapers in relation to the release for sale of the Irish Press titles; when the report of the Newspaper Commission will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4638/96]

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The liquidation of the Irish Press newspapers, as decided by the directors, has had a serious consequence in regard to plurality and diversity in the newspaper media in that a major daily, an evening and a Sunday newspaper left the market. The readers who supported the titles have not had newspapers with a similar ethos to replace them. A gap was left in the market which, in the interests of diversity and plurality I would like to see filled.

The launch of any new paper or a relaunch of press titles is a matter to be decided on respectively by either the investors or the owners of the Irish Press titles.

I supported the workers in obtaining an examinership to Irish Press newspapers and Irish Press Publications, which unfortunately failed — the prospect of a long legal wrangle over the titles put off what appeared to be a potentially viable project at that time. The closure has been devastating for the people who used to work in the Irish Press.

Prior to the failed examinership I had extensive discussions with all newspaper interests following the publication of the Competition Authority's report. At all [714] stages, I have had the objectives of securing revitalised Irish Press titles in the market, and upholding competition law. These have been my central concerns in this matter.

I hope the newspapers could be relaunched to provide for diversity of views in the newspaper media. However, the sale or otherwise of the Irish Press titles is a matter for the owners of those titles and as Minister I have no function in this regard. I have had no recent contact with either Independent Newspapers or Irish Press management on the release for sale of the Irish Press titles. I would be happy if the newspapers were back on the streets to encourage vibrant competition and to provide for diversity and plurality.

I attach considerable importance to the work of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry under the chairmanship of the former Chief Justice, Mr. Thomas Finlay. The issues before the Commission are complex and it has received a significant number of submissions. It will take longer than at first envisaged to complete the report. The commission is aware of the need to produce its report at the earliest possible date.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke Zoom on Mary O'Rourke The Minister will have seen the reports of increased readership of all of the newspapers, who obviously picked up the lost readership of the Irish Press. I know the Minister does not wish to intervene in the matter but there is such a thing as active ministerial interest and involvement. In a matter of such importance — the Minister himself stresses plurality and diversity — he should combine open encouragement with meetings of the relevant groups mentioned in my question to see if there is any way forward for another group of interested people to take over the titles and the Irish Press. Will the Minister give active encouragement to a BES tailored to such a group of individuals who wish to come together for that purpose?

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I cannot get involved [715] in putting together a business plan or a package of investors. That action should be taken by those who own the titles and who envisage investing in this sector. It would not be realistic to expect the Minister to take a more proactive approach to the sector. I recognise, as the Deputy said, that the loss of the Irish Press has created a major gap and others have gained from that. I hope the existence of that gap in the market is a spur to those who would consider investing in this sector.

Ms Harney: Information on Mary Harney Zoom on Mary Harney When does the Minister expect the report of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry? He said it was slightly delayed because of the number of submissions. Will it be published?

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I expect the report early in the summer, and it will be published.

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