Johnston pays £159m for two Irish newspaper groups

By Sarah Lagan and Des Cryan

Johnston Press has acquired the Irish Leinster Leader group and Local Press group of newspapers.

The purchases, which cost a total of £158.9 million, make Johnston
one of the biggest publishers in Ireland, with 40 titles north and
south. The deals add almost half a million sales to the company’s total
circulation and are subject to the approval of competition authorities.

The company said it is taking advantage of the growth in the Irish economy and healthy returns from press advertising.

It recently acquired six Irish titles from Scottish Radio Holdings.

is reported to have outbid Independent News and Media, The Irish Times
and Dunfermline Press to acquire the Leader group for £93.9 million.

Leader group was privately owned by 27 shareholders. Its total revenues
to 30 August 2005 were around €21.1 million, (£14.2m), up 15 per cent
on the previous year. It publishes six weekly newspapers and an evening
paper in Limerick, amounting to a circulation of 92,000. The group’s
titles include the Leinster Leader, Leinster Express and Limerick

Johnston completed the purchase of Local Press, in which
ex-Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery has a five per cent
stake, for £65 million.

The group’s 12 assets include the oldest
continuously published newspaper inthe English-speaking world, the
Belfast News Letter, as well as the Derry Journal, Donegal Democrat,
the Sunday Journal and Belfast News. Total weekly circulation amounts
to 343,000.

For the period to 2 January it reported revenues of
£18.5 million and operating profit of £4.9 million, a 54 per cent
increase on the previous year.

Johnston chief executive Tim
Bowdler said: “We are delighted. This gives us a credible footprint in
both the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The acquisitions
weren’t predicated on huge changes, but more on investing and improving
the business.

“We’ve always said that we are an acquisitive company. “We
have now acquired three companies in Ireland in the last couple of
months, so our priority is to bed them down. But we never close our
minds to further acquisitions, whether its in the UK or Ireland.”

Clearance of the deal is likely to be granted in six weeks.

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