Sale of INM comes after a decade of changes for media company

The sale of Independent News & Media (INM) to a Belgian company comes after some turbulent times within the group.

INM is Ireland’s largest media group and owns titles in the Republic and Northern Ireland including the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, the Herald, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life and the Sunday World. It also has a 50% holding in the Irish Daily Star.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Mediahuis, a private European group founded in 2013, had agreed to take over INM in a 145.6 million euro (£125.7 million) deal.

In the Republic of Ireland, INM accounts for over 50% of the daily market and over 65% of the Sunday market.

The Dublin-headquartered media group employs an average of 800 people.

The newspaper and website publisher has faced massive changes over the last decade.

In 2006, seven years after the company name was changed to Independent News & Media, businessman Denis O’Brien acquired an interest in INM and by 2012 had become its largest shareholder, which he remains to this day.

Sir Anthony O'Reilly
Sir Anthony O’Reilly (Paul Faith/PA)

Sir Anthony O’Reilly, who in 1973 acquired a significant shareholding in Independent Newspapers, led the group until he stepped down 2009.

Sir Anthony’s son Gavin became group chief executive after he stepped down.

Mr O’Brien continued to buy more shares in the company and Gavin O’Reilly stepped down as chief executive in 2012 after a series of clashes with Mr O’Brien. It marked the end of the O’Reilly family connection with the media group.

The move came after a public battle between Gavin O’Reilly and Mr O’Brien as the INM board grappled with its finances.

Non-executive director Paul Connolly sued INM at the High Court over a payment of 1.87 million euro (£1.61 million) Mr O’Reilly received on his departure. The case was then settled by the parties.

In late 2017, INM lost an appeal against a ruling that articles and commentary it published in 2014 were contempt of court.

The INM and another company were fined 100,000 euro, which was the highest ever for contempt. The company appealed to the High Court to have the fines overturned.

Since 2016 there have been concerns over corporate governance after former chief executive Robert Pitt came to blows with ex-chairman Leslie Buckley and Mr O’Brien over a proposed takeover of radio station Newstalk.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) started to investigate the matter after protective disclosures made by Mr Pitt and former INM chief financial officer Ryan Preston.

ODCE director Ian Drennan applied to the High Court in 2018 with his concerns over a number of matters, including an alleged data breach at INM in 2014 that included journalists’ emails.

Last September the High Court approved the appointment of inspectors to investigate concerns about the conduct of the affairs of the media company.

Their inquiry will look into a major data breach and other serious matters, and in April the High Court received its first interim report from the inspectors.

The media group has been making cutbacks for a number of years and has announced several redundancy schemes since 2014.

In January the company announced it was seeking 35 redundancies.

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