Irish News briefed top unionists over funding

Irish News representatives briefed Lady Sylvia Hermon and Lord Laird of Artigarvan before the leading unionists launched their campaign to block government funding for the Andersonstown News and its sister paper Lá.
At confidential meetings in London last June, the Irish News told Lady Hermon and her UUP colleague Lord Laird that they were opposed to government funding for the Andersonstown News Group's proposed new daily newspaper, Daily Ireland.
Following that meeting, Lady Hermon called for all funding for the Andersonstown News Group to be blocked because of this newspaper's pro-nationalist stance.
Lord Laird, meanwhile, said funding would disadvantage “the Irish News, for which I have a high regard.”

A public meeting in West Belfast on Tuesday night heard that our Irish language sister paper Lá faced closure if monies due to its Donegal office, which has been operating since June under a contract with the European programme INTERREG, weren't released.
Two members of Lá last week lost their jobs as the funds crisis bit and publication of the paper has been cut back to four days per week.
Irish News Chief Executive Dominic Fitzpatrick and press relations consultant Tom Kelly of Stakeholder Communications Limited — who also serves on the Policing Board — made up the Irish News deputation which briefed unionists.
“Though the Irish News received significant government grant-aid right right up to 1997, they’re on record as opposing similar grant-aid to our newspapers in the jobs blackspot of West Belfast,” said Andersonstown News Group spokesman Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
“That's notwithstanding the fact that this paper group raised no protest when the Irish News, the Belfast Telegraph and other newspapers received, between them, millions of pounds of grant-aid to which they were entitled.”
Lady Sylvia Hermon was yesterday unavailable for comment. However, UUP peer Lord Laird confirmed that he had also been lobbied by the Irish News.
“I would always make time for Tom no matter what he was saying, and always do,” he said.
Lord Laird insisted that his interest in the issue is simply on the basis of ensuring fairness.
Yesterday, Tom Kelly – who said that the Irish News is one of his clients – confirmed that the Irish News had briefed the unionists, adding “there is no mystery to the Irish News briefing”.
“I have been lobbied on behalf of newspapers, so I can't imagine why other people wouldn't be.”
A later statement issued jointly by Tom Kelly and the Irish News read: “I can confirm that the Irish News is one of the clients of Stakeholder Communications Limited and is one of a number of media clients on whose behalf Stakeholder Communications Limited acts. As with all our clients, the work of Stakeholder Communications includes briefings and PR initiatives both in Great Britain or Ireland.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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