Friday 20 April 2018

Rabbitte is 'fed up' with bill delay

Minister 'at his wits' end' over Bruton's failure to deliver elusive media mergers legislation

Communications minister Pat Rabbitte launched the plan
Communications minister Pat Rabbitte launched the plan
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte is "totally fed up" with cabinet colleague Richard Bruton over the continued delay in the much-anticipated Media Mergers Bill, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Mr Rabbitte, who has spoken strongly about the need for new legislation, is, according to senior Government sources, "at his wits' end" over Mr Bruton's failure to deliver the legislation, which has been mired in a legislative backlog for more than two years.

Known formally as the Consumer and Competition Bill, it has been the subject of strong adversarial commentary between Fine Gael and Labour, particularly in relation to businessman Denis O'Brien's increased stake in Independent News & Media (INM), which publishes this newspaper.

Mr Bruton has defended the delay given the "complexities" of the bill and has said "good progress is being made".

The amount of Mr O'Brien's media interests has been a source of significant tension between Fine Gael and Labour, especially since the businessman was criticised in the report of the Moriarty tribunal.

Ministers Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin made overt criticisms of Mr O'Brien, particularly in light of his appearance on the balcony at the New York Stock Exchange with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Under the heads of the bill, responsibility will be transferred to Mr Rabbitte's department from Jobs Minister Mr Bruton, but as of yet no progress has been made.

At the time, Mr O'Brien was locked in a bitter battle for control of INM, with the now ousted O'Reilly family who had controlled the group for decades. Mr O'Brien now owns 29.9 per cent of the shares in the group.

It is a year since the Labour Party tried to fast-track changes in the law governing media takeovers, but it was rebuffed by Fine Gael.

Amid the political controversy, Mr Rabbitte wanted to move quickly to enact a new competition law relating to the media that would have given him the right to oversee mergers, including any full takeover of INM by Mr O'Brien.

He wanted to have the legislation transferred to his department and enacted immediately.

Mr Bruton has said: "It's on the A List for publication before the end of this session. That's the target to which we are working."

Defending the delay, he added: "It's a complex bill. There's the media mergers piece, there's the regulation of the retail trade piece and then there's the merger of the bodies [the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency], so there's a lot of drafting to be done, but I'm satisfied that good progress is being made."

Only eight of the 130 heads of the bill relate to media mergers, but for observers the wait for this legislation has been significantly longer than the two-year delay.

The recommendations contained in the promised legislation were made by the Report of the Advisory Group on Media Mergers in 2008.

Irish Independent

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