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All Irish media missed the 'Watergate' story of banking crisis - former Irish Independent editor

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Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and  now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Geraldine Kennedy , former Editor of the Irish Times (left) and Maeve Donovan,former Managing Director of the Irish Times, two of the  witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Geraldine Kennedy , former Editor of the Irish Times (left) and Maeve Donovan,former Managing Director of the Irish Times, two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Ed Mulhall , former Head of News and Current Affairs at RTE , one of the  witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Ed Mulhall , former Head of News and Current Affairs at RTE , one of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

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Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

All of the Irish media had missed the 'Watergate' story of the banking crisis but it was not for the want of trying, former editor of the Irish Independent, Gerry O’Regan has told the Banking Inquiry.

The state of the banking sector was “hidden from the view of everybody” at the time.

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Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and  now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Gerry O'Regan,former Editor of the Irish Independent (left) and Michael Doorly,former Financial Director and now Company Secretary at Independent News & Media two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Unlike Watergate “we didn’t get a Nixon” he added.

It was perhaps the great untold story but the problem was that the Central Bank, IMF and Regulator and various other influential people were saying matters were okay, he said.

Mr O’Regan, who was editor of the Irish Independent from 2005-2012 said in all his time editing the paper he had been given a free hand and never came under any pressure what-so-ever to take a particular line politically or commercially.

There was no hidden agenda at the Irish Independent to try and artificially bolster the property boom, the former editor said.

There was a widespread belief, he added, both in Ireland and abroad in the financial economic and political communities, that a ‘soft landing’ would result from the rapid expansion.

Asked by Fianna Fail Deputy Michael McGrath if there had been an “unhealthy dependence” on property advertising at the time, INM Company Secretary Michael Doorly said he did not believe that.

He explained while the increase in advertising revenue at the time of the boom was substantial, moving from from 60pc of revenue in 2002 to 66pc in 2007, “this move was not insignificant but neither could it be described as a paradigm shift”.

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Geraldine Kennedy , former Editor of the Irish Times (left) and Maeve Donovan,former Managing Director of the Irish Times, two of the  witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Geraldine Kennedy , former Editor of the Irish Times (left) and Maeve Donovan,former Managing Director of the Irish Times, two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Geraldine Kennedy , former Editor of the Irish Times (left) and Maeve Donovan,former Managing Director of the Irish Times, two of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Ed Mulhall, former RTE Head of News and Current Affairs told the committee that in his view RTE had performed its public service well during the period but “could we have done better? Of course we could.”

The main problem RTE had at that time was getting people to answer questions.

He said the most significant intervention that denials were wrong was when Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan rang in to the Morning Ireland programme to confirm the country was entering a bailout  programme.

He also recalled at the time of the Bank Guarantee in reaction to a Liveline programme the Finance Minister, the late Brian Lenihan had contacted the director general and then Mr Mulhall directly about the panic that might ensue with a run on the banks.

He said it was a very proper and in no way inappropriate contact by the Minister. Mr Mulhall had explained it was not the station’s role to assure the public but offered to interview the Central Bank or Regulator and the Financial Regulator subsequently came on the nine o’clock news.

Former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy told the committee that journalists were less well-placed than others to make an accurate assessment in the run up to the property bust.

“The media, as always, was reliant on reporting the views of the specialists, be they government, the Central Bank, the regulator, or the profession of economists”.

She felt it was fair to say the policy of her newspaper was critical of both the establishment and operation of the Financial Regulator and the IFSRA at the time believing they were not independent of the Central Bank.

Ms Kennedy stressed there was no trade-off between editorial and advertising.

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Ed Mulhall , former Head of News and Current Affairs at RTE , one of the  witnesses  arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House
Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Ed Mulhall , former Head of News and Current Affairs at RTE , one of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

Ed Mulhall , former Head of News and Current Affairs at RTE , one of the witnesses arriving at the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry at Leinster House Pic Tom Burke 26/3/2015

She said she did not know what the Irish Times could have done differently at the time to predict the magnitude of the fall.

“We reported the news forensically. We challenged the consensus and canvassed all views and published them.”

Maeve Donovan, former Managing Director for eight years up to 2010, said staff were aware of the necessity to maintain the separation of editorial and commercial activities.

She told Deputy Joe Higgins Said at height of boom 17pc of total revenue of business came from property advertising - €22m by 2006 compared to €10m a year in 2002.

She also defended the spend of €40m on the acquisition of the property website myhome.ie despite the fact that the bulk of that debt has now been written off.

She said the bottom line was if it was owned by a competitor today it would be “a huge on-going threat to the financial stability” of the newspaper.

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