Scottish group pays €30m for paper

THE MEATH CHRONICLE is to be sold for more than €30m to Scottish newspaper group Dunfermline Press and another significant media asset sale is expected to be completed before the new year.

Merrion Corporate Finance acted for the Chronicle, and Merrion director Cathal Friel says the deal represents the further consolidation of the Irish media industry.

“The first phase of this consolidation was led by non-Irish companies, such as Scottish Radio Holdings (SRH) in Scotland, UTV in Belfast and others buying media assets in the Republic of Ireland. We will see the arrival of American media players investing in Irish media assets,” added Mr Friel.

The sale price of €30m plus has taken the industry by surprise as the Chronicle returned pre-tax profits of just 1m in the year to the end of July 2001.

However, significant investment in a new printing press has pushed turnover to over €10m and profits to between €1.5 and €2m in the interim.

The company is understood to be heavily laden with debt following recent investments. This debt may be as high as €6m.

If profits hit €2m this year, then the Chronicle will have been sold spot on at the industry average of 15 times profits. Merrion is understood to be acting for a number of Irish media asset owners anxious to cash in on the high prices being paid for newspapers and radio stations in Ireland.

The Meath Chronicle is the second major regional newspaper to change hands this month following the sale of the Limerick Leader to the Leinster Leader Group for €23m.

The Chronicle sale brings to an end the Davis family’s ownership of the Navan-based newspaper stretching back 85 years. Founded in Kells in 1897, the Chronicle was purchased by James Davis in 1917.

The acquisition, approved by Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Harney, represents the Scottish group’s first venture into the Irish market and its first purchase outside Scotland and Britain.

The deal adds to its stable of titles in Britain where the Dunfermline Press Group and Clyde & Forth Press have a number of local newspapers throughout Fife, Strathclyde, Ayrshire and Berkshire, in addition to the evening newspaper, The Greenock Telegraph. The chief executive of the Scottish group is Irish-born Deirdre Romanes.

Meath Chronicle MD Jack Davis will step down in the new year, along with his wife, Margot Davis, editor of Modern Woman, but production director Paul Davis and Meath Chronicle editor Ken Davis will remain in their present positions.

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