Newspapers deny role in fuelling property boom

Former Independent News & Media financial director Michael Doorly, left, and Gerry O'Regan, former 'Irish Independent' editor, arrive at the banking inquiry.

Two leading national newspapers have rejected claims they bought into the property boom, despite one purchasing a property website for €40m and another holding a “glittering” award gala for developers.

The former editors of the Irish Times and Irish Independent staunchly defended their organisations from the criticism at the latest Oireachtas banking inquiry meeting yesterday.

Speaking to the cross-party group, the Irish Times’ former editor Geraldine Kennedy and former managing director Maeve Donovan said the newspaper highlighted the risk of a property crash.

Ms Kennedy, who was editor between 2002 and 2011, said the newspaper published 289 “leading articles” from 2002 until 2007 criticizing the Financial Regulator, Central Bank and others.

She said these included economist Morgan Kelly’s high-profile December 2006 article warning of a 40-60% property price crash.

The former editor said while political, business and other sectors tried to pressure her: “I wasn’t bullied by Charlie Haughey in my 20s, so I was hardly going to be bullied by lesser politicians when I was in my 50s.”

However, she admitted to “reservations” about the Irish Times decision to buy property website Myhome.ie for €40m in 2006.

Read More: Examiner editor: We faced a formidable consensus

Ms Donovan admitted the “bulk” of the investment has been written off, but said Myhome.ie remains “a key strategic asset” as there is a need to “diversify” company funds.

She rejected claims too much focus was placed on property-linked revenue, but said between 2002 and 2007, €100m (17%of revenue) came from property advertising.

During an earlier banking inquiry session yesterday, former Irish Independent editor and former Independent News and Media financial director Gerry O’Regan and Michael Doorly, similarly rejected claims of buying into the property bubble.

They faced angry questions from Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins about the firm’s “glittering” developer awards ceremony. He said “seven of the winners ended up in Nama” and five were among “Anglo’s top five debtors”.

However, Mr O’Regan (editor 2005-2012) stressed there was “no conscious attempt on my part” to fuel the property boom.

He said the focus was on covering issues “to optimize sales”, and that the crash was the “Watergate” issue all media missed.

When asked about the 2006 purchase of www.propertynews.com, Mr Doorly said it was a mainly Northern Irish website. He said while the media can reflect public interest, it cannot “create or sustain a boom”.

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