Tag Archives: Celtic Media Group

From top: Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smyth in the Dáil this afternoon

This afternoon.

And further to reports that, in November 2016, the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten informed Eoghan Ó Neachtáin, of Heneghan PR which represented Independent News and Media, that he planned to refer INM’s proposed takeover of Celtic Media Group to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland…

Two months before it was publicly announced…

During Topical Issues – taken by the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and ahead of Minister Naughten’s statement to the Dáil in relation to the matter which is now thought to take place around 4.30pm – Ms Murphy said the following:

“Minister, when I submitted the topical, I referred to the implications of recent and escalating developments regarding INM based on the ODCE investigation into the company.

“At the time, of course, I was referring to significant concerns regarding what can only be considered as a hacking of emails which potentially compromised huge numbers of journalists and their sources and the major implications for damage, such inaction poses the independence of media and the protection of journalism.

“But as of today, I cannot ignore the most obvious escalating development which is the involvement of the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten.

On the 6th of December 2016, he stood in this chamber and told me in response to a priority question, he had only commenced the phase one assessment on the 24th of November 2016, his officials had not yet made any decision and that he had 30 days to make a decision on three options  -one of which was  a potential referral to the BAI [Broadcasting Authority of Ireland].

He said, and I’m quoting, that he ‘hadn’t received a report from his officials yet’.

The director of corporate enforcement’s affidavit states that a month earlier on the afternoon of the 11th of November, he personally told representative from Heneghan PR that he would be referring the proposal, proposed merger, to the BAI, based on the advice of his officials.

“I note that Heneghan PR, headed by Nigel Heneghan, advisory to Leslie Buckley and spokesman for INM and also member of the compliance committee of the BAI.

So here was a PR firm employed by INM and with close ties to all the close protagonists in INM making a direct contact with a minister and being made privy to a decision which I, as a parliamentarian, weeks later, was told the decision had not been made yet.

“The repercussions for this, I believe, are stunning – not least in relation to the implications it has for the potential market manipulation and inside dealing but also for the questions it raises in regards to corporate governance and INM and the axis of power between major shareholders of INM and his department.”

Ms Murphy went on to say that Minister Naughten should recuse himself for any role in media regulation.

She added:

“I also take exception, yet again, to being misled in this Dáil when I ask a parliamentary question and I believe I was mislead in respect of those replies on the 6th of December.”


Ms Smyth said:

“If the media was free, why does Ireland have a higher concentration of media ownership than most other countries with one key individual whose name can never be mentioned whether in a committee or in this chamber, owns Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Evening Herald, has a stake in the Daily Star, The Kerryman, the Drogheda Independent, the Wicklow People, the Exford People, the Waterford People, and many radio stations such as Newstalk, Today FM.

“That is power, that is control, and that is a very, very wealthy individual whose name cannot be mentioned in these chambers, who has strong links with the Irish state, so much so that every time a very important function happening like Davos, or the New York Stock Exchange, he appears with key members of this government.

“And that friendly relationship has helped him to secure influence and has continued to help it exist. That is what needs to be challenged.”

Follow the Dáil proceedings live here

Earlier: Denis Denis

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dail this morning

This morning.

More details from the affidavit which the Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan has given to the High Court – in a bid to have inspectors investigate Independent News and Media (INM) – emerged.

Simon Carswell and Mark Paul, in The Irish Times, reported that on November 12, 2016, former INM chairman Leslie Buckley forwarded an email to INM’s largest shareholder Denis O’Brien which Mr Buckley had received from PR executive Nigel Heneghan.

The email from Mr Heneghan detailed a conversation the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten had with Eoghan O’Neachtain, director of public affairs at Nigel Heneghan’s PR firm the day before, November 11, 2016.

[Mr O’Neachtain took up the role at Heneghan PR in 2015 – after he served as Press Secretary to three Governments and Taoisigh]

The Irish Times has reported that Mr O’Neachtain’s conversation with Minister Naughten was about INM’s proposed takeover of the regional newspaper group, called Celtic Media Group and, in this conversation, the minister told Mr O’Neachtain that he planned to refer the proposed takeover to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

This discussion was then relayed to Denis O’Brien in the aforementioned email of November 12, 2016.

This was reportedly two months before the minister’s plans were made public.

Further to this…

This morning.

During Leaders’ Questions…

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was questioned about the matter.

Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald pointed out that the email sent to Mr O’Brien “stressed that the information contained within it should be treated with the strictest of confidence”.

Ms McDonald also said that the PR company didn’t log the engagement with the minister with the Lobbying Register.

As he responded, Mr Varadkar outlined the timeline of events, as he saw them – after he told the Dail that he is satisfied that Minister Naughten didn’t disclose any information which was confidential.

Mr Varadkar also said there appeared to be a misunderstanding about the process and that “it’s not a secret process“.

From his responses:

The minister informs me that it was the 4th of January 2017, and not November 2016. The information, as I said earlier, was not confidential. It is not unusual for PR companies and PR agents to use information that is not confidential or publicaly available and make out that somehow that it is confidential information.

“…I think deputy, almost anyone in Ireland can have access to a minister, it’s not that difficult to access politicians or ministers in Ireland, whether it’s through a constituency clinic or whether it’s simply by requesting a meeting or a phone call.”

“…In terms of timeline, I’m advised that the merge’s process went through the full rigour required of the Act and the guidelines after it was received by Minister Naughton on the 21st November, 2016.

The recommendation was made by officials on the 4th January 2017 – that the acquisition be referred to a phase two examination and that was approved by Minister Naughten on the 10th of January.”

Further to this…

A few weeks after this reported phonecall between Mr O’Neachtain and Minister Naughten on November 11, 2016, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy was told by Minister Naughten that he had not yet decided if he was going to refer the proposed takeover to the BAI (see above).


It appears Minister Naughten told an INM representative but didn’t tell the Dail.

Deputy Murphy has said in a statement:

The entire matter really opens up questions, yet again, regarding the axis between powerful individuals and political decisions.“

Denis Naughten will give a statement to the Dail and take questions on foot of it at 3pm.


Readers may wish to recall that Nigel Heneghan was appointed to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in February 2015.

The position was not advertised.

At the time, the then Minister for Communications Alex White told The Sunday Times he wasn’t required to advertise the position as the compliance committee didn’t come under new rules for appointments to State boards.

In November 2016 – the same month that the alleged exchanges took place between INM representatives and the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten – Mark Tighe, in The Sunday Times, was reporting that Mr Heneghan had to excuse himself from discussions about several complaints it had dealt with because he was acting for two companies connected with Denis O’Brien.

Mr Tighe reported:

“Nigel Heneghan is a spokesman for Actavo, an O’Brien-owned construction services company formerly called Siteserv, and for Independent News & Media (INM), the newspaper publishing company in which O’Brien is the largest shareholder.

He declared conflicts of interests in relation to five cases before the BAI compliance committee, according to its 2015 annual report.”

“…Heneghan absented himself from cases involving complaints that dealt with water charges or Irish Water. Actavo was one of three firms contracted by Irish Water to install meters. It became a focus of protests after some people were temporarily jailed for physically stopping Actavo staff working on installations.

“Two of the cases in which Heneghan declared conflicts involved Newstalk, a national radio station owned by O’Brien’s Communicorp. The other three instances involved RTE Radio shows. Heneghan did not declare conflicts in relation to other Newstalk cases that did not involve water charges.”

O’Brien told of Minister’s plan to refer INM’s Celtic Media takeover (Simon Carswell, Mark Paul, The Irish Times)

BAI member in conflict due to O’Brien link (Mark Tighe, The Sunday Times, November 20, 2016)

Transcript: Kildare Street

Video: Mick Caul


Then Fine Gael Communications Minister Michael Lowry and Denis O’Brien in 1997

Elaine Loughlin, in The Irish Examiner, reports:

The National Union of Journalists have written to the Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Environment asking that Mr Lowry “recuse himself” from all discussions around the acquisition of the Celtic Media Group of local newspapers by Independent News and Media.

The committee met in private yesterday to discuss this letter, but they were told that they do not have the power to ask him to step aside.

Committee members received legal advice during the meeting and were told that Mr Lowry cannot be asked to excuse himself.

It is understood TDs and senators were told while Mr Lowry could recuse himself if he believed there was a conflict of interest, members do not have the power to demand or even ask he step aside during the hearings.

Call for Michael Lowry to step aside from INM hearings (Irish Examiner)

Previously: Zero Sum Game

#Moriarty: A Phone Book. In More Ways Than One



On Friday, Independent News and Media announced that it is buying Celtic Media Group which owns seven regional newspaper titles.

They are the weeklies – The Anglo Celt in Cavan, the Meath Chronicle, the Westmeath Examiner, in Mullingar, the Westmeath Independent, in Athlone), the free Offaly Independent and the Connaught Telegraph.

In addition, the group owns the fortnightly, free south Meath newspaper Forum.

Further to this…

The Green Party writes:

The Green Party today called on Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten TD, to refer the proposed buyout of Celtic Media Group by Independent News Media to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Party believes the takeover is in breach of the cross-media ownership regulations set out in the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014.

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan TD said today: “The Minister needs to use the provisions of the 2014 Act to question and hopefully stop this merger.

There is a real threat to the public interest when one organisation ends up owning so many different media outlets. The legal mechanism to challenge this development has already been introduced. It is now up to the Minister to ensure those provisions are used.

“Irish print media are under real stress as advertising continues to divert to online platforms.

While we also want to ensure the survival of these historic titles, we cannot see a situation where so much of our print media is held by the same organisation who control so many national and local radio stations.

“The Minister and the BAI need to act fast to provide certainty about their approach. I will be raising the issue at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment this Thursday morning to get a clear understanding of the Ministers intentions.”

Greens call on Minister to refer purchase of Celtic Media Group to BAI (Green Party)