Tuesday 12 December 2017

Labour denies merger law delay

JOHN DRENNAN

SENIOR Labour figures have sharply refuted the claim by Fine Gael that Pat Rabbitte has failed to convince his Cabinet colleagues that a new law on media mergers should be put through the Dail before the summer recess.

The coalition partners have been engaged in an escalating political tug of war over the proposed transfer of responsibility for media mergers from Richard Bruton's Enterprise Department to Mr Rabbitte's Communications Department.

The stand-off is all the more surprising in the wake of the recent declaration by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that his party would support the speedy passage of the bill.

Though the Cabinet agreed the transfer of this section of competition law to Mr Rabbitte's department last July, the slow process of the bill, due to be published later this year by Mr Bruton, has been the catalyst for increased tensions between the parties.

Labour, sections of which now openly suspect FG have a wider agenda on the issue, has suggested that the elements that deal with the media should be extracted from the larger bill and put through the Dail so that new rules would become law by the summer.

The media mergers section of what one minister called "the voluminous new consumer and competition" bill is a very short 10-section element of the bill.

Last week, however, the Fine Gael wing of the Coalition, which has become increasingly sensitive about a perceived close relationship between senior echelons of the party and Denis O'Brien -- who controls a number of radio stations including News- Talk and is the largest shareholder in Independent News & Media -- triumphantly claimed Mr Bruton had secured a total victory and that this particular "conversation is now over".

But top-level senior Labour figures swiftly moved to scotch any such claim.

One senior figure close to the heart of the Cabinet told the Sunday Independent: "We remain committed to the early implementation of the bill and the issue has not yet been discussed by the Cabinet."

Party sources also told the Sunday Independent that "the legislative priorities of the Troika have been a key factor in the delay of the bill".

But outside of the Troika's understandable lack of interest in the issue of media diversity in Ireland, Labour is also scathing about the role being played by the embattled Enterprise Minister, who in a previous administration failed to stop the collapse of the Irish Press group. One senior figure told the Sunday Independent: "If the bill was stripped out to stand alone, we would put it to be before the summer recess."

Mr Bruton is perceived to be resisting such a move out of concern that "if he loses out on this one, he'll lose his place in the legislative queue and be left waiting for a year longer".

Sunday Independent

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