Archive for April 15th, 2012

With thanks to an eagle-eyed member of this blog’s audience, it seems that a developer, reputedly one of the NAMA Top 20, is now based in London. Spain Courtney Doyle – their website won’t open on some web browsers including Opera – now shows its contact address at 3 Wigmore Place in central London, just north of Oxford Street. Its telephone number is now shown as + 44 7500 115822 which I believe is a UK mobile telephone number. The company is controlled by Paddy Spain, David Courtney and Bernard Doyle.


There is no entry on the “News” page which might explain the change of address. As far as I can tell, all the property for sale/rent still appears to be in Dublin (Ireland).


It was last summer when Spain Courtney Doyle was forced to respond to rumours that it was about to close down. The company is still managing property in Dublin and according to its website, it is still offering property for sale and rent.

Whilst there is no evidence to suggest it is the case here, other NAMA developers have relocated to the UK before declaring themselves bankrupt – Tom McFeely, Ray and Danny Grehan and John Fleming for example. The NAMA chairman recently said during a radio interview inDublin : “and by the way being declared bankrupt in theUK does not mean NAMA loses interest in you -far from it”


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This weekend’s normal political slot is given over to the looming battle for Ireland’s biggest media group, Independent News and Media (IN&M) which also has operations in South Africa and Australasia. Some of you mightn’t have heard of IN&M but you will have come across its newspapers – the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Sunday World and the Belfast Telegraph as well as regional titles like the Enniscorthy Guardian. You may also have used GrabOne.ie which is similar to the international, similar-sounding but separate, Groupon operation which provides customers with discounts on goods and services. You may also have come across its car sales – CarsIreland.ie – and recruitment – FindAJob.ie – websites.

But the reason you’re going to be hearing a lot more about IN&M is there is a looming battle for control of the company with Denis O’Brien, who owns 22% of  the shares, in one corner and the O’Reilly dynasty, which controls 13% of the shares, in the other. Businessman Dermot Desmond reportedly owns 6% of the group. The main players and the IN&M chairman, James Osborne, are pictured below.


The battle is seemingly getting dirty – there were 10 Denis O’Brien-related articles in today’s Sunday Independent, all largely negative and there is a laughable piece penned by the Sunday Independent’s new editor, Anne Harris who dismisses accusations of corporate machination to blacken Denis O’Brien’s name. This blogpost sets out some of the hype and facts that you may come across as the battle intensifies ahead of IN&M’s annual general meeting on 8th June when the betting is that Gavin O’Reilly will be ousted as CEO of the company.

The hype
“All of our titles are profitable”

The reality
In 2011 IN&M made a full year net loss of €41m after a €95m exceptional loss. Its turnover fell in 2011 by €68m from €626m to €558m. It is balance-sheet insolvent with net liabilities of €23m.  It has net debt of €427m. It is worth saying that practically all of Ireland’s main media companies are currently loss-making from RTE with an expected €17m deficit in 2011, to Crosbie Holdings which publishes the Irish Examiner and Sunday Business Post to Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp and the Irish Times group – TV3 had a good year in 2010 but we await 2011 results and the company is reported to be sitting on a debt mountain which has been parked in agreement with banks. So whilst IN&M’s finances mightn’t look healthy to you, its competitors are also suffering.

The hype
Anne Harris today writes “Fact is, 5,000 more people are now buying the paper each week than at the beginning of this year. And just to get the figures out of the way. There are 10 Sunday newspapers out there. In the last year more than 50,000 sales disappeared from the Sunday newspaper market, due to emigration and enforced tightening of belts: people increasingly look for value for money from their newspaper. In that time, despite the advent of a new newspaper (The Sun on Sunday), the Sunday Independent increased its market share to over 27 per cent.”

The reality
ABC is the independent organisation which monitors circulation and its latest report is for the six months ending December 2011, which shows all of the IN&M national titles losing circulation between July and December, as follows:

Sunday World from 263,845 copies in July 2011 to 232,692 copies in December 2011
Sunday Independent from 257,614 to 232,697
Irish Independent from 133,157 to 117,149
Evening Herald from 62,515 to 60,374
Belfast Telegraph from 56,499 to 51,880

Meanwhile, during the same period, the Sunday Business Post circulation increased from 43,408 to 44,480, the Irish Times increased from 94,285 to 94,944 though the Irish Examiner did fall from 43,406 to 40,528.

Plainly times are tough in the newspaper industry but it seems that IN&M’s titles are suffering more than most.

The hype
Our focus is on maximising available cash flow for continued debt paydown, which will deliver value for our shareholders.”

The reality
IN&M has haemorrhaged shareholder value in the past year – its shares had a trading range of  22c to 65c. On Friday last, the shares closed at 22.5c, meaning the company has a market capitalisation of just €124m – it’s not exactly Apple or Microsoft, is it?

The hype
The O’Reillys don’t interfere in editorial matters at their newspapers. Anne Harris today says that “I have not spoken to him [IN&M CEO, Gavin O’Reilly] — or anybody on his behalf – since [the funeral of Aengus Fanning in January 2012]”

The reality
Anne Harris’s appointment to the role of editor of the Sunday Independent was announced in February 2012, following the death of her partner Aengus Fanning. How likely is it that IN&M’s CEO had no hand in the appointment to such a key role? Who knows – Anne Harris says that it was the CEO of IN&M’s Irish operation that appointed her – but if Gavin O’Reilly didn’t have a hand in such a key appointment, then perhaps all the more reason for him to retire to the garden. Anne goes on to suggest that Greg Sparks’s presence on the boards of both the Irish Times and Denis O’Brien’s Digicel has equivalence with Gavin O’Reilly’s role as CEO of IN&M; her argument goes that Greg Sparks’s presence on the board of the Irish Times had as much to do with Denis O’Brien’s right hand man Leslie Buckley’s coruscating – towards IN&M’s present management –interview published in the Irish Times on Friday last, as Gavin O’Reilly’s presence on the IN&M board has with the raft of anti-Denis O’Brien articles in IN&M titles. Hmmmm.

The hype
Newspaper owners don’t interfere in the appointments or fortunes of their employees

The reality
This old chestnut is purveyed around the world, and is almost universally treated with cynicim. When Eamon Dunphy left his (much missed) Sunday Show on Newstalk last October 2011, remember what he said about Denis O’Brien. And if you think Denis O’Brien is allegedly alone in his involvement in his media company, then just look at dramas from Wapping to Lower Thames Street, from Silvio Berlusconi to Kerry Packer . Of course owners of any business get involved in the product produced by their businesses, and to suggest otherwise is just incredible. There seems to be quite the Fanning/Harris dynasty – Eoghan Harris, Dion Fanning, Evan Fanning and Anne Harris – working at IN&M and some might think that Anne is tying her fortunes to the O’Reilly mast in advance of the forthcoming battle. And the suggestion that “most journalists” at IN&M don’t know the identity of the CEO of their company is both an insult to the many fine journalists who do work at IN&M and an insult to the public’s intelligence.

The hype
Anne Harris today writes “the Irish public is sick of swimming in shit”

The reality
Since becoming editor of the Sunday Independent in February, 2012, Anne has penned quite a lot of sh*t about Denis O’Brien – by “sh*t”, I don’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, just that it is negative and critical of the man who may take control IN&M in the next few months.

15th April, 2012 – “Best value for money in a paper is the truth”
8th April, 2012 – “Proud to work for a newspaper which takes on the rich and powerful directly”
1st April, 2012 – “Please don’t stand so close to me”
11th March, 2012 – “Just as nobody can ever calculate precisely the billions gained by Denis O’Brien as a result of getting the most lucrative government contract in the history of the State from disgraced politician Michael Lowry..”

And beyond the high-mindedly aspiring Sunday Independent, let’s not forget the pigswill at sister-paper, the Sunday World

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