Johnston Press confirms talks on sale of Irish newspapers

UK publisher seeking to offload titles such as ‘Limerick Leader’ and ‘Kilkenny People’

Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield (r) speaks to Lawrie Procter, MD of Mediaforce, at a conference on the local press in DCU last year.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield (r) speaks to Lawrie Procter, MD of Mediaforce, at a conference on the local press in DCU last year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Mon, Dec 2, 2013, 16:53

Johnston Press, the publisher of more than 30 regional newspaper titles in Ireland, has confirmed it is “advanced” talks to sell its 14 titles in the Republic, which include the Limerick Leader, the Donegal Democrat, the Leinster Leader and the Kilkenny People.

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, the company said it was holding discussions about the “possible sale” of the titles for €8.5 million in cash.

“There can be no certainty that agreement will be reached on a sale,” it said, noting press speculation, and adding that “a further announcement will be made as appropriate”.

The statement did not name the possible buyer, however it is understood to be Mediaforce, an advertising agency that has close links with the regional press in both Britain and Ireland. It is owned by British millionaire Malcolm Denmark.

Johnston Press also publishes the Leinster Express, the Tipperary Star, the Leitrim Observer, the Longford Leader, The Nationalist & Munster Advertiser (based in Clonmel), South Tipp Today and the Donegal People’s Press.

The most recent accounts for Naas-based Johnston Press Ireland show that its pretax profit fell 44 per cent from €1.7 million to €941,000 last year. Its fortunes have plunged since the height of the boom in 2006, when its pretax profit reached €13 million.

The debt-laden parent company recently announced an “enhanced” group-wide voluntary redundancy scheme, having already laid off almost a quarter of its workforce between 2011 and 2012.

The cuts, implemented by digital-focused chief executive Ashley Highfield, have also affected the Irish operation in recent years, with a number of senior posts merged and a decision taken to close the Offaly Express.

Its business in the Republic also incurred one-off redundancy costs of €757,000 last year (up from €125,000 in 2011) and a provision of €127,000 for empty properties, with the directors describing 2012 as “another difficult year” for the Irish economy.

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