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Banking Inquiry

Geraldine Kennedy: Charlie Haughey couldn't bully me, so 'lesser politicians' hardly could

The banking inquiry is hearing about the media’s role in the crisis this week.

Updated 2.30pm

GERALDINE KENNEDY HAS told the banking inquiry she “constantly” received complaints from politicians who were unhappy about articles in the Irish Times.

Kennedy said that in her role as the paper’s editor from 2002-2011, many people – be it politicians, the church or businesspeople, contacted her to complain on a daily basis.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 at 12.14.38 Geraldine Kennedy

She said she “constantly” got negative feedback from politicians – both members of the government and the Opposition, recalling: “Sinn Féin were great at it, the Greens were great at it.”

I wasn’t bullied by Charlie Haughey when I was in my 20s, so I was hardly going to be bullied by lesser politicians when I was in my 50s.

Kennedy said she would listen to their concerns and meet them if necessary, but would never allow their views to impact on the paper’s editorial policy.

The former editor said there were a number of large stories during the period she was asked to examine (2002-2007) ahead of her appearance, such as two general elections; the invasion of Iraq; the introduction of the euro; the Mahon Tribunal; and changes in the leadership of several political parties.

However, she said: “With the benefit of hindsight, the boom and bust in the economy was the major event that spanned all of those years.”

During this period, she said the Irish Times wrote 289 leading articles expressing “editorial policy on the economy and the property boom”.

Kennedy said the paper was “critical of both the establishment and operation of the Financial Regulator and IFSRA, believing that they were not independent of the Central Bank”.

She noted that from 2003 onwards, the newspaper was “warning that trends in the mortgage market were a cause for concern”, and noted it was the only publication to run an article in 2006 in which economist Professor Morgan Kelly predicted there would be a property crash with prices falling by between 40% and 60%.

Kennedy said that in 2007 the Irish Times made a complaint to the professional bodies of auctioneers and valuers that some estate agents were “providing the property supplement with misleading selling prices”.

She added that the introduction of the National Property Register in 2012 was a consequence of this discovery in the paper.

Maeve Donovan, the former managing director of the Irish Times, said the paper’s readers “have a strong interest in both residential and commercial property”, adding it is “a key driver of readership in both print and online”.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 at 12.28.45 Maeve Donovan

Kennedy said the same editorial standards that were applied to the rest of the paper also covered its property supplements, stating: “There was no trade-off between editorial and advertising.”

The former editor said she was “in favour of diversification” but had “reservations” about the purchase of property site in 2006.

Donovan said The Irish Times Ltd paid €40 million for, adding there had been a lot of “speculation and inaccuracies” about this figure.

She said the website remains “a key strategic asset” of the Irish Times and trades profitably.

Kennedy said there was speculation at the time that the Guardian was also bidding for, and the Irish Times trust was keen to keep the site based in Ireland.

Donovan said the “bulk” of the €40 million paid has been written off. However, she pointed out that if a competitor owned the site it would lead to a “huge ongoing threat to the financial stability of the Irish Times”.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 10.16.38 2 Gerry O'Regan

Earlier today, Gerry O’Regan, the former editor of the Irish Independent, appeared before the inquiry. He told the committee there was no attempt on his part, or that of the paper, to bolster the property market.

O’Regan, who edited the best-selling paper in the country between 2005 and 2007, told TDs and Senators that he was primarily concerned with boosting the sales of the paper.

“There was no conscious attempt on my part, or the part of the newspaper, to fuel what has been described as the property boom,” he said.

He said that high employment and economic growth had led to a “national feel good factor” and that the prevailing wisdom was that if a bubble emerged these factors would mitigate the downturn.

He insisted there was no “hidden agenda” to “artificially bolster the property market”.

“We cover the key issues and try to reflect them with the ultimate objective of trying to optimise sales,” O’Regan said.

O’Regan pointed to his signing of economist David McWilliams as a columnist for the paper as evidence of his willingness to publish what he said were “alternative” views.

He said the paper was willing and trying to embrace “widening economic discussions about the perils on the horizon”.

On speculation that the paper turned down UCD economist Morgan Kelly’s infamous 2007 article warning of the crash, O’Regan said: “I would have given him a run.”

He rejected any claims of political interference, saying that the paper’s support for the Fianna Fáil government in 2007 was not as a result of any influence or meetings with politicians or parties.

O’Regan said he met with various politicians and business people “but at the end of the day I came under no influence whatsoever to support any party”.

When asked about an article in the Sunday Independent praising a former unnamed bank boss, O’Regan had this response:

Michael Doorly, the former financial director at INM, told the inquiry that advertising revenue from property represented an average of 14 per cent of overall income during that period.

He said the media “cannot create or sustain a boom”.

Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell

Read: Sexy corruption and 8 other things we’ve learned at the banking inquiry

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