SDLP questions Minister’s return to media group

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir previously stood down as media group director to ‘focus on ministerial job’

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: “All my relevant interests are declared; and rules regarding gifts and hospitality are adhered to. I am satisfied that I am fully compliant with the code”

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir: “All my relevant interests are declared; and rules regarding gifts and hospitality are adhered to. I am satisfied that I am fully compliant with the code”

 

The SDLP has queried why the North’s Minister of Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has been reappointed as a director of the Belfast Media Group just weeks after he stood down so he could “focus” on his ministerial responsibilities.

The SDLP economy spokeswoman Sinéad Bradley raised the matter yesterday after it emerged that the Sinn Féin Minister is one of the investors who have purchased the New York-based news and entertainment website, Irish Central for $3 million (€2.7 million).

Up until Wednesday evening the Northern Assembly’s register of interests stated Mr Ó Muilleoir had resigned his directorship of the Belfast Media Group from May 31st. But the register has since been updated to state that the South Belfast Assembly member and publisher has been “reappointed as director, Belfast Media Group Ltd from June 15th, 2016 (Registered June 20th, 2016)”.

At the end of May, shortly after Mr Ó Muilleoir was appointed as Minister for Finance, he posted a tweet stating he had “stepped down from Belfast Media Group director’s chair to focus on ministerial job, wishing new team every success”.

This prompted Ms Bradley to query his reappointment. “When Máirtín Ó Muilleoir was appointed as Minister he resigned as a director of Belfast Media Group to focus on ministerial duties. Since then he has been reappointed as a director and needs to explain why circumstances have changed,” she said.

Resigned

Irish EchoIrish Echo

“Máirtin has also made significant publishing acquisitions in the United States since his appointment as Minister. There is a clear need to delineate work undertaken as an executive Minister promoting the interests of Northern Ireland from his growing personal business interests both here and in North America,” said Ms Bradley.

The Irish Times through his departmental office sought an interview with the Minister about the purchase and also asked could his business interests interfere with his ministerial work, or take time from this work.

Clear requirements

“All my relevant interests are declared; and rules regarding gifts and hospitality are adhered to. I am satisfied that I am fully compliant with the code,” said Mr Ó Muilleoir.

His response did not address the question of whether he could meet both his media and ministerial responsibilities. His register of interests says he dedicates two hours per week to Belfast Media Group work.

Mr Ó Muilleoir is among the shareholders who purchased the Irish Central website. The purchase was led by Liam Lynch, a New York venture capitalist and investor in digital companies. Mr Lynch described Mr Ó Muilleoir as “one of our passive minority investors”.

The Irish Central website was established in 2009 by publisher Niall O’Dowd who separately runs the New York-based Irish Voice, a rival to the Irish Echo.

Under employment and earnings on the register it states that Mr Ó Muilleoir’s remuneration including expenses and other benefits is “up to £500 per week”. He estimated benefits from the Belfast Media Group, including pension, at £10,000 for year, April 2016-March 2017.

The register also includes follow-up information relating to previous registers stating that as a director of the Belfast Media Group from February 3rd 2015 to the end of April 2016 his remuneration including pension was £16,000.