The acquisition of the Irish Examiner by The Irish Times has been cleared by Minister for Communications Denis Naughten on media plurality grounds.
The Irish Times welcomed the Minister's decision to approve its purchase of the newspaper title and other media assets owned by Cork-based Landmark Media Investments in a deal agreed in December.
A number of legal and compliance steps will now be taken in the coming weeks to finalise the deal, The Irish Times said. However, the Minister's approval was the final regulatory clearance necessary for the acquisition to go ahead.
In a note to staff, the company said: "The Irish Times looks forward to meeting and working with all staff and their representatives to discuss the acquisition. We will be making arrangements to do that as soon as possible. This will include briefings to staff in Dublin, Cork, the regional titles and radio stations."
The Department of Communications has written to The Irish Times managing director Liam Kavanagh and Landmark chief executive Tom Murphy to inform them that the Minister "is of the view that the media merger proceeding as proposed will not be contrary to the public interest in protecting the plurality of the media".
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) had in April approved the deal on competition grounds, saying the acquisition of Sappho Limited from Landmark "will not lead to a substantial lessening of competition in any relevant market in the State".
It found no evidence that The Irish Times and the Irish Examiner were each other's closest competitor in the publication and sale of daily national newspapers or in the sale of advertising, whether in print or online.
The CCPC found that while sales of The Irish Times are predominantly in Leinster, the vast majority of sales of the Irish Examiner are made in Munster.
It also concluded that both publications would continue to face competition after the deal.
Print and online
In the sale of daily national newspapers and daily national newspaper advertising, this competition will come from groups such as Independent News & Media (INM), Trinity Mirror and News Corp UK & Ireland. In the sale of online advertising, it will come from Google and Facebook – which together control most of the market – as well as these newspaper publishers.
Under the media mergers process, the Minister for Communications makes a separate assessment of the acquisition’s impact on media plurality.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has separately approved the change of ownership of the radio stations involved in the transaction, which comprise majority stakes in WLR in Waterford and regional station Beat 102-103, and a 17.6 per cent holding in Cork station Red FM.
The assets that will be acquired by The Irish Times also include the Evening Echo newspaper, the websites www.breakingnews.ie, www.recruitireland.com and www.benchwarmers.ie.
The weekly regional titles that are part of the deal are the Waterford News & Star, the Western People, the Carlow Nationalist, the Kildare Nationalist, the Laois Nationalist and the Roscommon Herald.
The acquisition will mark the end of the Crosbie family's ownership of the Irish Examiner, which dates back to 1872, when journalist Thomas Crosbie took over the proprietorship from John Francis Maguire.