Saturday 22 September 2018

Judge will rule later on bid to appoint inspectors at INM

Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Independent House, Talbot Street, Dublin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The president of the High Court is expected to rule in the coming weeks on an application from the corporate watchdog for the appointment of inspectors to Independent News & Media (INM).

Mr Justice Peter Kelly reserved judgment yesterday at the end of a three-day hearing.

The judge will be taking written submissions next week on what the terms of reference for the inspectors should be, in the event he decides to grant the application.

The ODCE has been investigating a number of corporate governance issues at INM, including a major suspected data breach and claims senior INM executives came under pressure from then chairman Leslie Buckley to pay an inflated price for Newstalk, a radio station owned by INM's largest shareholder Denis O'Brien.

The deal never went ahead.

The ODCE claims it has gone as far as it can with its inquiries and needs to have inspectors appointed to progress matters.

However, INM has opposed the application as unwarranted.

Paul Gallagher SC, for INM, said the media group feared there would be a very serious risk of disruption to its business if appointments were approved.

INM is concerned its reputation will be affected and shareholder value will be damaged by an inquiry not directed at any current aspect of the company's operations, he said.

Mr Justice Kelly said there was no surprise in what Mr Gallagher was saying. "It doesn't work to the company's benefit either commercially or financially for an application of this sort to be made," the judge said.

Mr Gallagher said if inspectors were to be appointed their inquiry should be limited in its scope and not the far-reaching probe sought by the ODCE, which would cause "immense damage".

He said the court had the option of allowing other bodies to carry out their investigations first.

If these proved inadequate, that would not preclude a further investigation at that stage.

The Data Protection Commissioner has already launched an inquiry, while the Central Bank is considering whether it needs to investigate concerns expressed by the ODCE that "inside information" may have been passed by Mr Buckley to Mr O'Brien.

The ODCE has suggested there had been a culture of deference in INM towards Mr Buckley and Mr O'Brien, but acknowledged there is no issue about editorial independence.

Mr Gallagher disputed there had been any culture of deference and said there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Brian Murray SC, for the ODCE, said INM's concerns about the potential impact of the appointment of inspectors was "speculative". He said evidence put forward by INM did not displace the necessity to make the appointments.

Irish Independent

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