INM in power shift as two directors ousted

The growing power shift at Independent News & Media took a firm hold yesterday with prominent directors — chairman James Osborne and chief financial officer Donal Buggy — being voted off the board at the group’s AGM.

The move underlines the strength of high-profile investors Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond, who between them now own more than 36.25% of INM.

Mr O’Brien recently increased his holding in the group to 29.9%, while Mr Desmond — via his IIU investment vehicle — this week upped his interest from 5.75% to 6.36%.

Before yesterday’s meeting, the INM board had urged shareholders to vote against the re-election of Paul Connolly — one of Mr O’Brien’s representatives on the board — who has taken INM to the High Court over the €1.87m pay-off to former chief executive Gavin O’Reilly.

However, Mr Connolly was comfortably re-elected by shareholders — a move which, he said, marked “a clear indication that shareholders strongly believe in upholding the highest standards of corporate governance”.

Earlier, Mr Osborne told one shareholder that having previously asked Mr Connolly to resign over the chief executive pay matter only for him to refuse, it was impossible for the previous board to support his re-election. He said Mr Connolly’s contribution to the group had not been under question.

All directors up for re-election — apart from Mr Osborne and Mr Buggy — were voted in favour of; including Mr O’Brien’s other representative, Lucy Gaffney and long-standing INM man and new chief executive Vincent Crowley. Mr O’Brien said Mr Crowley has his “total confidence”.

Both Mr O’Brien and Mr Desmond — via representatives — issued statements to yesterday’s meeting.

Mr O’Brien’s focused on the five-year erosion of INM’s share price and the need for new leadership to tackle a €148m pension fund deficit.

Mr Desmond’s centred on the “excessive”, “remarkable”, and “wholly without justification” payoff to Mr O’Reilly.

Mr Desmond’s statement also praised Mr Connolly’s opposition to Mr O’Reilly’s exit pay.

The INM board was meeting yesterday evening, but no further news of fresh appointments was forthcoming.

On the back of yesterday’s developments, however, the National Union of Journalists called on the Government to fast-track legislation to strengthen the Department of Communications’ powers to deal with media ownership concerns.

“The Government must address the immediate issues arising from the effective takeover of INM by a powerful figure engaged in cross-media ownership, but there’s also a need for a wider public debate on media policy in Ireland,” said NUJ Irish secretary Seamus Dooley.

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