New Irish newspaper draws fire

Posted on Monday, February 14 2005
Topic: Europe news
Great Reporter
By Jason Walsh

The Irish newspaper market has been flung into turmoil
with the launch of a new title: Daily Ireland…

Launched on February 1, Daily Ireland is published by
Nuachtain, better known by the name of their flagship
title the Andersonstown News, headed by former Sinn
Fein councillor Mairtin O'Muilleoir.
The new paper employs 40 staff and has an initial
target circulation of 20,000 with offices in Belfast
and Monaghan.

Backers include Peter Quinn, former president of the
Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish senator Mary

Quinn is involved with two weekly Dublin newspapers
published in association with the Nuachtain and
previously invested in Ireland on Sunday.

According to Daily Ireland’s editor Maria McCourt,
although the newspaper is a tabloid it has a "clean
design reminiscent of a broadsheet. In terms of news
we want to achieve readability and credibility.”

McCourt who formerly edited the weekly South Belfast
News explains: “We’ll be aiming to take readers from
both the Irish News and the Daily Mirror.”

The launch comes only a year after Trinity Mirror’s
sale of the News Letter to the 3i venture capital
group, backed by former Mirror Group chief, David

Critics see the new title as the Irish republican
Andersonstown News being re-launched on a national

Asking a person in Northern Ireland which newspaper
they read is tantamount to asking who they vote for,
or worse what religion they are, as these divisions
are replicated in the press.

Nationalists favour the Irish News and unionists the
News Letter or Belfast Telegraph, though the Belfast
Telegraph enjoys considerable cross-community support
due to its extensive recruitment and classified
advertising sections.

Belfast Telegraph editor Edmund Curran says: “Sinn
Fein in particular feels that the media doesn’t treat
it fairly and see a sympathetic daily as

Writing in the Spectator, Stephen Glover bemoaned the
fact that, “a publisher loyal to Sinn Fein”, had
received £750,000 in funding from the British
government since 1999.

The group applied for further funding of £5 million
from the government but was turned down. Ulster
Unionist MP, Sylvia Hermon objected, demanding a
review of the compatibility of the group with state

O'Muilleoir dismissed concerns and says Daily Ireland
is “virtually entirely privately funded.”

It is estimated that one third of the capital is
coming from US investors.

The history of the Andersonstown News is unlike that
of any other newspaper in Ireland.

Launched on November 22, 1972, it was initially an
openly political publication published a republican
front organisation called the Andersonstown Central
Civil Resistance Committee.

The story of the newspaper mirrors that of Sinn Fein,
growing in popularity amongst the nationalist
community and seeking acceptance by the mainstream.

Now published twice-weekly alongside sister titles the
North Belfast News and the South Belfast News, the
Andersonstown News has come a long way from its
anti-establishment roots.

According to commentator, Liam O'Ruairc: “It’s a
corporate enterprise and its central aim is to be
profitable. The paper’s prior support for “No Rent”
and “No Rates” wouldn’t go down well with the estates
agents advertising in its pages today. Its move to the
mainstream parallels the growth of the republican
movement as a bureaucratic institution. Both are now
concerned with the ‘new Catholic middle-class’.”

Signalling this mainstream acceptance the newspaper
moved from its cramped offices on the Andersonstown
Road in the 1990s to a purpose built centre located in
an industrial estate on the outskirts of west Belfast.

Staff started work in the Belfast district of
Andersonstown in early January.

Undeterred by the grim surroundings of an industrial
estate, one reporter says “The atmosphere is great –
they’re a really nice crowd.”

Editor Maria McCourt adds: “The paper will give a lot
of young journalists with experience on weeklies an
opportunity to work on a daily.”

Daily Ireland will be serious competition for the
Irish News, the main nationalist daily in Northern
Ireland, which has a steady circulation of 50,000.

Unlike the Irish News, a Northern Irish title, Daily
Ireland is being pitched as an all-Ireland newspaper,
however it will be limited initially to Northern
Ireland and border counties such as Monaghan and
Cavan, moving to all-Ireland distribution at an
unspecified point in the future.

Irish News management is clearly feeling threatened
and is getting its retaliation in first – the
newspaper now features a daily page in the
Irish-language and is switching from its present
Berliner format to tabloid, though editor Noel Doran
insists that: “the plans were announced six months
before Daily Ireland was announced.”

Doran is adamant that the Irish News will survive:
“We’ve been publishing continuously since 1891. Plus,
they’ve made a lot of being a ‘national’ newspaper but
the fact remains that it will only be available in 12
counties – about a third of Ireland.”

He continues: “It will certainly be competition, but
we’re already competing with the Belfast Telegraph,
the British tabloids and to a lesser degree, the
southern papers.”

The fact that the Irish News is generally seen as a
moderate, highbrow voice may signal his being overly

Just as the nationalist electorate has switched its
support from the moderate SDLP to Sinn Fein, a
populist republican newspaper could make significant
inroads into the Northern Irish media.

Doran disagrees: “Things change but we’ve been a
constitutional nationalist paper since before both the
SDLP and Sinn Fein’s foundation. The fact that the
field of constitutional nationalism is more crowded
than before is good for us.”

Edmund Curran is not particularly concerned about
newspaper’s emergence: “It won’t have any effect on
the Telegraph. Overall, it’s hard to say – it’s a very
crowded marketplace. It will be competition for the
Irish News, but remember the Irish News is very
serious. If the Daily Ireland is perceived as a true
tabloid then it will really be competing with the
Daily Mirror,” says Curran.

There are now 18 morning dailies available in Northern
Ireland – an area with a population of 1.6 million –
and it is clear that the British imports in particular
have deep pockets. The Daily Mirror in particular
features extensive local sports coverage – competing
directly with the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph.

Curran feels that the tabloids' perceived impartiality
on political issues is a bonus to them.

"British tabloids outsell the local morning papers,
which reflects that people's tastes are wider than
before. It would be dangerous to assume that a
political position alone will sell a paper," he

What effect the paper will have on the press in the
Republic is less clear. Ireland does not have a
distinctively nationalist daily.

The Irish Times and Independent News and Media-owned
Irish Independent and Evening Herald are perceived to
be anti-nationalist.

Ireland is littered with failed newspapers: Ireland on
Sunday failed to find a market until it was bought by
Associated Newspapers, becoming a ‘Celtified’ edition
of the Mail on Sunday.

Despite selling 150,000 copies it remains a
loss-making operation. March 2003 saw the launch of
Dublin Daily which closed after just 90 editions.

The Irish Press, founded by former Irish president,
Eamon de Valera, was the quintessential nationalist
title, but despite this clear readership it closed in
May 1995 amid questions surrounding finances.

Republican writer Danny Morrison is confident Daily
Ireland will succeed: “Sinn Fein polls very well in
border counties. There is a readership with an
appetite for it, but they will have to resist being
dominated by Belfast,” says Morrison.

Irish Independent deputy editor Michael Woolsey
disagrees: “If this paper had any impact in the South
at all I’d be surprised. It will be perceived as
northern and I know that the Irish News sells poorly
in the south. Being an ideological paper won’t help it
overall – if it sold a thousand copies in the
Republic, it would be doing well.”

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