Tuesday, 10 October 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
29. Mrs. O'Rourke asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the meetings, if any, he has had with groups interested in investing in the Irish Press Group since the creditors' meeting; the investors, if any, involved with the groups he has met; the discussions, if any, he has had with Independent Newspapers since he made his ruling that the company could not be involved in a relaunched Irish Press Group; the discussions, if any, he has had with any groups regarding the launching of new titles to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Irish Press Group; and the plans, if any, he has to introduce a White Paper on the newspaper industry. [14484/95]
59. Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the plans, if any, he has to take legal action to prevent the relaunch of some or all of the Irish Press titles; if so, the grounds on which he is doing so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14434/95]
I have had one meeting with a group of potential investors, involved in the examinership process, since the Irish Press Newspapers creditors meeting on 8 September 1995. Previously, I had a meeting with another group of prospective investors also involved in the examinership process. The purpose of these meetings was to hear from them their  intentions in respect of the Irish Press titles in the aftermath of the unsuccessful examinership. The investors indicated to me that they would still be interested in entering commercial arrangements that would enable them to publish titles held by Irish Press Publications. While I was heartened to learn of this it is a matter that would have to be explored between these potential investors and the existing shareholders in IPP, who are Irish Press plc and the Irish Independent Group.
I also met with representatives of Irish Independent plc in early September 1995 as a follow-up to my letter of 24 August 1995 to them. In that letter I outlined my views concerning the interim report of the Competition Authority on the newspaper industry. I recalled that the authority concluded that the acquisition by Independent Newspapers of a 24.9 per cent shareholding in Irish Press and the provision by Independent Newspapers of loans totalling £2 million to the Irish Press represented both an abuse of a dominant position by Independent Newspapers and an anti-competitive agreement contrary to the Competition Act. I indicated to the Irish Independent that I shared the Competition Authority's views. At my meeting with representatives of the Irish Independent, I reiterated my views on competition law vis à vis their involvement with the Irish Press. I also sought information from them as to their future plans in respect of the Irish Press titles. Independent Newspapers' representatives undertook to let me know of their intentions in due course.
Taking a legal action on foot of the Competition Authority's interim report remains an option. I reiterate that I will resist any future involvement by Independent Newspapers with a relaunch of Irish Press titles as I have stated in this House on 7 June last and in my press statement of 25 August 1995. I have also made it clear that any action to prevent or hinder the relaunch of the Irish Press  titles with non-Independent Newspapers investors would infringe the Competition Act. I clearly do not view the initiation of legal challenges as necessarily the best approach to resolving the Irish Press problem.
I have made it clear to both Independent Newspapers and the Irish Press that I am prepared to take the necessary action to ensure compliance with the Competition Act. I will decide at the appropriate time any such action in the light of all of the circumstances.
I recognise that there are serious issues facing the newspaper industry and that they must be addressed in a coherent manner. I expect that the Commission on the Newspaper Industry the Government has established, under the distinguished chairmanship of the former Chief Justice, Mr. Thomas Finlay, will give the most careful of analysis to all these issues in dealing with its comprehensive terms of reference. I have asked the commission to undertake its work speedily and I expect to have its report, with recommendations, early in the new year. I genuinely want the commission to bring forward real ideas and recommendations that can chart the course for a profitable and dynamic newspaper industry well into the next century. It is premature to comment on the possibility that a White Paper will be produced in advance of the outcome of the commission's deliberations.
Mr. R. Bruton: I cannot comment on newspaper reports. However, I made my view clear in my letter to Independent Newspapers Ltd. Any such involvement would be contrary to the competition law and, if necessary, I will be prepared to act appropriately under that Act.
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Minister says he will not give permission to Independent  Newspapers to become involved in relaunching the Sunday Press. The answer was long and convoluted and did not, therefore, hold my attention.
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Minister said he will not allow Independent Newspapers to become involved in relaunching the Sunday Press. Has he, subsequent to or prior to that announcement, met any other group of investors to whom he could give encouragement to become involved in relaunching the Sunday Press?
Mr. R. Bruton: The Deputy's question had four separate parts to it. I had to address the separate elements, and that is why the reply was long. Since the meeting to which the Deputy referred, I have had meetings with the company involved in the examinership process. I do not have the power to order the release of the titles — that is for the current shareholders of the titles in IPP, namely, Irish Press plc as the major shareholder and Independent Newspapers. I cannot offer to any company what I do not have the power to give.
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Minister has been very open about these matters at all times. If it is to be relaunched in time for the Christmas market in advertising and circulation terms, the time span is very short. Have there been any further approaches to the Minister in the past week with regard to investment in the Irish Press Group?
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