Principled journalist fired by Press group

Colm Rapple: October 14th, 1940 - January 29th, 2015

 

Colm Rapple, who has died aged 74, became – after a many-faceted youth – a journalist’s journalist, a lodestone for many in the craft who learned to appreciate and respect his immense energy, his extraordinary breadth of knowledge of his chosen fields, his unremitting attention to detail and his generous spirit.

Rapple was a Dubliner, born in Marino to Liam and Lilian, and schooled at St Joseph’s CBS. Always a man of commitment, his early loyalties were to 1950s republican politics and, although those loyalties were to fade, he retained a commitment to Connolly’s dictum that Ireland was nothing without her people.

After six years in the British merchant navy, some of spent as clerk to the kitchen on the Queen Elizabeth. he entered UCD as a mature student, and, already married to Nuala O’Toole King and with a daughter, Simone, enhanced his bank balance by opening letters in the Irish Press, where he also enjoyed the friendship of its librarian, the unassuming but intellectual Aonghus Ó Dalaigh.

His journalistic career proper in the Irish Press group began in 1969 under Tim Pat Coogan and Fintan Faulkner, but his rising star was soon appreciated by rivals in Abbey Street, which then hired him as business correspondent.

Analysis

Later, after taking an MBA degree, he became group business editor of the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent, where he expanded and enlarged the previous pagination in those titles to include more analysis and a broader agenda of related topics.

In 1985 he returned to the Press group as group business editor, a position of considerable influence that he maintained until the closure of the group’s papers in 1995.

The background to this closure was the proposal that Tony O’Reilly’s Independent Newspapers take a 25 per cent stake in the Press group, an enterprise which was reeling financially after a disastrous entanglement with the US would-be media magnate Ralph Ingersoll.

This proposal was referred to the Competition Authority, and not only Rapple’s loyalty to his threatened journalistic colleagues but his concern for the newspaper industry as a whole prompted him to write a frank article about the issues involved in The Irish Times on May 24th, 1995. The publication of this article was followed by his instant sacking for “disloyalty”, a sit-in by his Press colleagues and the closure of the titles by management.

In his article, Rapple expressed his profound beliefs about journalism, voiced earlier at many Irish Press AGMs and at a public forum on the future of journalism hosted by the then minister for industry and commerce, Richard Bruton.

These included his passionately held view that competition policy alone was insufficient to guarantee media diversity and maintain employment and that journalism in the service of the public was too important to be determined solely by market forces. His stand earned him the unstinting loyalty and support of his colleagues. It also provided less palatable evidence of the power of newspaper proprietors.

Throughout his career, Colm Rapple pioneered the kind of financial, business and economic journalism which eschewed the dry prose of company annual reports and probed the consequences of financial and economic decisions for citizens generally, and for the vulnerable or the underinformed in particular. This was, in its own way, a quiet revolution in Irish business and financial journalism, which modulated in later years into his extraordinarily successful series of books on personal finance and into an additional career as a radio and television commentator and as a prolific freelance writer.

Ideology

His son Rory commented at his funeral: “He was consistently sceptical of neoliberal economics in Ireland, especially when it issued in the ideologically driven privatisation of semi-State bodies and he marvelled again and again at governmental incompetence in the sale of licences and contracts at bargain basement prices.

 

“Before the bust, while most called for madder music and stronger wine, he lamented continually the cosy relationship between financial regulators and financial institutions in this country.”

His craggy exterior only partially masked a warm and generous personality. Always prepared to help younger journalists, and indeed total strangers seeking his advice, he was also, among other things, a matchless guide through the often impenetrable forest of social welfare rules and regulations.

That warmth and generosity was of course most particularly bestowed on his family, either in Dublin, on walking trips together, or in Crimlin, Ross West, in Co Mayo, where this true Dub planted acres of trees, bred pedigree cattle and kept bees, and where he enjoyed Lahardane in the company of friends like the late Billy Barrett, John Roache and Marie Devanney.

He is survived by his wife Nuala and their children Simone and Rory.