Models And Characteristics Of The Daily Press Of The Republic Of Ireland
A NATION OF IMITATORS?
Models and characteristics of the daily press of the Republic of Ireland
Escola Superior de Educação Jean Piaget/Nordeste,
For many years, the daily press of the Republic of Ireland suffered from the
comparison with its glorious British counterpart. Since the mid-nineteenth century,
however, Ireland has enjoyed an independent, relatively healthy and dynamic national
press, and all the major Irish newspaper groups today have their origins well before the
country’s political independence in 19221.
Last year, an impressive total of 800,000 newspapers were sold in the Republic of
Ireland every day, corresponding to an average of almost 200 for 1,000 inhabitants, far
behind countries where people are traditionally great newspaper readers such as Norway,
Sweden, Germany or even, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, but a long way ahead of
others like Portugal, Spain or Greece where the daily press has very low circulation figures
[Junqua 62]. Indeed, in that respect, Ireland seems to reproduce one more of those
paradoxes which have marked her troubled history, by being geographically located in the
Northern part of Europe, but with the same strong Catholic tradition as Southern European
countries. As far as its daily press is concerned, as in other fields, Ireland shows some
characteristics directly inherited from her original British model, which does not
necessarily mean that the Irish press should deserve to be considered a pale copy of it.
Beyond the series of clichés to which Ireland is often reduced, the objective of this
paper is precisely to present the state of the daily press of the Republic of Ireland today and
to determine to what extent it differs from other established models, especially British, or if
it may be considered a “Nation of imitators”, to quote an expression used by Douglas Hyde
in his famous speech entitled “The Necessity for de-anglicizing Ireland” delivered in 1892
The Cork Examiner was founded in 1841, the Irish Times in 1859, the Irish Independent and the Evening
Herald in 1891 and the Evening Echo in 1892, the only exception being the Irish Daily Star, launched in
(Mitchell & O’Snodaigh 86). In order to do so, I will first present the state of the daily
press of the Republic of Ireland today and its apparent prosperity despite traditionally
hostile conditions, before concentrating on two of its essential characteristics: strong
competition from powerful British media groups and a growing tendency to concentrate.
Since they first appeared in the first half of the 18 th century, Irish daily newspapers
have had to face hostile conditions, especially on three levels: geographical, political and
economic. First of all, Ireland is a small country, with a small population whose evolution
throughout the XIXth and XXth centuries is unique in Europe (Lee 511). Considering the
Southern part of the island, known since 1948 as the Republic of Ireland, the total
population was in 2002 slightly under 4 million2, which means that existing newspapers
have to share a potential market of just over three million adults, by no means comparable
with the huge British, French or German markets. Beside strictly commercial
consequences, the size of the market may influence the very profile of the national press, as
Fintan O’Toole, the famous writer and Irish Times journalist, puts it:
The Irish market is so small: if El Pais or Le Monde sold the same proportion of the
market as The Irish Times, they would be huge newspapers. Precisely because of this
limited market, it does have to be a more populist newspaper. It is a difficult trick.
[...]There is no easy way out of that, it has to do with the size of the market […]3.
In other words, while in other countries The Guardian, Le Monde, El País, La Repubblica
or Die Franfkürter Allgemeine can afford to stick to the upper end of the market, Irish
newspapers in Ireland - as in other small countries - may be tempted to widen their range of
audience if they do not want to be strictly limited to some happy few.
On a political level, control over newspapers has always been particularly strong in
Ireland, especially since the development of Catholic and nationalist titles following Daniel
O’Connell’s campaigns for Catholic emancipation and for the repeal of Union with Britain
in the 1830s and 1840s (Nowlan 16). Censorship, however, was by no means the exclusive
practice of the British authorities in Ireland, and remained very strong after the foundation
of the Free State in 1922. The Censorship Act of 1929, for example, allowed the authorities
to forbid any publication that they would judge “indecent or obscene” (Murphy 62), while
According to the 2002 census of population, the total population of the Republic of Ireland was 3,917,203,
including 3,089,775 adults (aged over 15).
Interview with the author in Perpignan (France), March 2001.
the 1937 Constitution, largely drafted by the nationalist leader Eamon de Valera himself,
stated that “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an
offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law” (Bunreacht na nÉireann 134).
According to Irish historian Joseph Lee, this implacable censorship had for ambition to
impose an illusory vision of Ireland as an island of virtue surrounded by an ocean of vice
(Lee 145). Times have changed, of course, but at the beginning of the 21st century, Irish
defamation laws are still widely considered as being among the most draconian in the so-
called developed world. Irish newspapers are also far from being privileged when it comes
to economic conditions, since Ireland is probably the EU state to do the least for its press,
with the highest VAT on newspapers (Robinet & Guérin 53) – at 12.5% - and few
advantages in terms of postal fares, expedition costs or tax cuts. This probably explains
why Irish newspapers are among the most expensive in Europe and cost, on average, twice
as much as their British rivals4. All these conditions may partly explain why the Republic
of Ireland has only six daily titles, of which only three may be said to have a truly national
The Irish Independent has been for many years Ireland’s best selling newspaper, and
is the only one to be read by all the classes of the population throughout the country 5. It
was founded in 1891, following divisions within the Nationalist Party after Charles
Parnell’s death. After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, it went on supporting
pro-Treaty parties against de Valera’s “republican” Fianna Fáil Party. Recently, however,
as John Horgan, Professor of Journalism at Dublin City University, puts it, it tends to be
“commercially rather than politically or ideologically driven” (Horgan 51). The Irish
Independent is the pillar of Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News and Media Group, which
owns many other Irish titles and holds shares in media in many countries around the world
– including in Portugal where, until last year, Independent News and Media held shares in
the Portuguese company Lusomondo Media, which controls three national newspapers:
Jornal de Notícias, Diário de Notícias and 24 horas. In February this year, the Irish
In April 2004, for example, both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent cost 1.50 Euro in the Republic
of Ireland, against 70 Cents for the Irish Sun or Irish Mirror.
With average sales reaching 180,000 between January and June 2004, the Irish Independent was read by
over half a million people according to an estimation carried out by the Joint National and Readership
Independent launched a compact, or tabloid edition, in Dublin, thus following the latest
tendency of several British broadsheets.
The Irish Times is often presented – included by itself – as Ireland’s newspaper of
record, mainly because of its independence, the quality of its financial and international
pages and the reputation of many of its journalists. Founded in 1859 as the organ of the
unionist and Protestant Ascendancy of Dublin, it has managed to accompany the growing
insularity of a traditionally Catholic and nationalist country in such a way that it has
become one of its major references. Today, the Irish Times maintains a distinctly up-
market profile, with most of its readers belonging to the ABC1 classes, and nearly three
quarters of them living in or around Dublin6. Despite the spectacular growth of its sales,
which have tripled since the early 1960s, heavy investments – especially in its website and
in a new printing plant – have led it to serious economic problems recently7.
In spite of its efforts to appear national, the Cork Examiner, now known as Irish
Examiner, remains essentially a regional newspaper, with over 95% of its readers
concentrated in the Munster region. Founded in 1841 with the ambition to become the
voice of moderate nationalism in the South of Ireland, the Examiner – as well as its
evening edition, the Evening Echo – remains an important voice in the Cork region,
without representing a real threat to other papers on the rest of the national territory. The
Evening Herald may also be seen as an essentially regional newspaper, being mostly sold
in or around Dublin. Founded in 1891 and property of Independent News and Media, it
holds a dominant position on the market of the evening press8, and was largely responsible
for the failure of the Dublin Daily, a new paper which was launched last year but only
managed to survive four months9. Finally, the Daily Star is Ireland’s only sensationalist
newspaper in the British tradition of tabloid press. It was founded in 1988 and is still
jointly owned by Independent News and Media and by the British United News & Media
Group, property of Richard Desmond, whose nickname of «king of porn» gives some idea
In 2003, 83.6% of the Irish Times readers belonged to the ABC1 classes, and 69% of them lived in
The average sales of the Irish Times reached 116,000 in 2004, against 36,000 in 1956. In October 2001,
however, the editor of The Irish Times announced losses estimated at around 2 million Irish pounds, mostly
due to its Internet edition, and a plan to cut down about 250 jobs (out of 700).
The average sales of the Evening Herald were 92,510 between January and June 2004, against 23.841 for
the Evening Echo, its only rival on the market of evening newspapers.
Launched in March 2003, the Dublin Daily successively became Dublin Evening Daily and Dublin
Evening before disappearing in July of that same year, having failed to find its own niche.
of his journalistic principles10. Despite the traditionally hostile conditions described earlier
on, the Irish daily press seems relatively healthy, as the following table shows:
Table 1: circulation of Irish daily newspapers 1995-2003
TITLE OWNER AVERAGE AVERAGE EVOLUTION
(launch date) CIRCULATION CIRCULATION 1995-2003
The Irish Independent 153,733 161,880 + 5.3%
Independent News & Media
The Irish Times Irish Times 97,089 116,534 + 20%
(1859) Trust Limited
The Irish Daily INM / United 81,497 109,139 + 33.9%
Star News & Media
The Irish Thomas Crosbie 52,932 59,821 + 13%
The Evening Independent 110,187 97,973 - 11%
Herald News & Media
The Evening Thomas Crosbie 24,682 28,071 + 13.7%
TOTAL 520,120 573,418 + 10.25%
Source: Joint National Readership Research
With only six daily titles available, Irish people bought last year 570,000 Irish daily
newspapers every day, a growth of 50,000, or 10.5%, in relation to 1995. The total of
newspapers sold in the country, however, has risen by some 135,000, or 20% over the same
period, which is largely due to the dramatic growth in the sales of British newspapers in the
Republic of Ireland, a phenomenon that has become increasingly crucial in the last decade.
In 1996, the Commission on the Newspaper Industry, nominated after the polemic
around the death of the Irish Press in 1995, stated the conditions for a newspaper to be
Richard Desmond, already owner of titles such as Asian Babes, Nude Readers’ Wives or Big Ones, bought
the Express Group in 2000, consequently becoming O’Reilly’s partner since the Irish Daily star is still
jointly owned by the Express Group and by Independent News and Media.
considered Irish: it must be published on Irish territory, direct its content to the Irish
market, be controlled by Irish interests, have a majority of its staff resident in Ireland and
be printed and distributed by persons working in Ireland Most of these conditions may
apply to a growing number of British titles for sale in Ireland, which tend to be produced
entirely on Irish territory and to include more and more Irish contents (Horgan 160).
Reflecting this evolution, the association in charge of controlling the circulation of
newspapers in Ireland included last year for the first time within its “national press” section
two of the nine British newspapers for sale in Ireland: the Irish Daily Mirror and the Irish
Sun11. These two titles, respectively owned by Trinity Mirror and by Rupert Murdoch’s
News International, sold together some 195,000 papers every day last year.
Last year, one third of the daily morning newspapers sold in the Republic of Ireland
were British12. This phenomenon is not recent, powerful British media groups having
always found in Ireland a natural extension of their market, encouraged by cultural
proximity and a common language. It is by no means unique either, with countries like
Austria, Luxemburg, Belgium or even Scotland being victims of the same phenomenon
usually defined as multinational (Bertrand 48). However, the situation in Ireland has taken
new proportions since British tabloids began to see their circulation and advertising
revenues stagnate, or even fall, during the 1990s in the United Kingdom13, and to invest
heavily in the Celtic Tiger’s market. As Eddie Holt put it in an article entitled “Who’s
watching the media?” a few years ago,
Ireland, like the rest of the world, is merely a market to be serviced and exploited by
big international media outfits. Technology, globalization and economics have
ensured that native media in small economies are under pressure (The Irish Times,
Dec. 2, 2000).
As a result, in the last ten years, the sales of British newspapers in Ireland have increased
much more than those of their Irish-owned rivals, as the following table shows:
Table 2: circulation of British daily newspapers in Ireland 1995-2003
TITLE OWNER AVERAGE AVERAGE EVOLUTION
The same could be said of Ireland on Sunday, bought by Associated Newspapers (owner of the Daily
Mail) from Scottish Radio Holdings in September 2001.
227,000 out of a total of 674,000, or 33.7%.
This is relative, of course, since the Sun and the Mirror sold around 3.5 million and 2 million copies on
average last year, against , respectively, 4 and 5 million in the mid 1960s.
CIRCULATION CIRCULATION 1995-2003
The Irish Mirror Trinity Mirror 60,204 79,448 + 32%
The Irish Sun News 55,972 114,977 + 105.4%
The Daily United News & 3,785 4,270 + 12.8%
The Daily Mail Associated 3,678 8,801 + 139.3%
The Daily Telegraph Group 6,382 3,468 - 45.7%
Telegraph Ltd (Hollinger
The Financial Pearson 3,131 4,332 + 38.4%
The Guardian Scott Trust 2,250 3,880 + 72.4%
The Independent Independent 4,614 1,872 - 38.4%
News & Media
The Times News 3,535 4,675 + 32.2%
TOTAL 143,551 225,723 + 57.2%
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation/ Joint National Readership Research
Indeed, since the closure of the Irish Press Group in 1995, the total circulation of
British newspapers in Ireland has increased by over 57%, against 10 for their Irish rivals.
As a consequence, the share of British newspapers in the total of newspapers sold in the
Republic of Ireland has risen from 21.6% in 1995 to 28.2% last year, reaching a peak of
32% on the overcrowded market of Sunday newspapers14. Nowadays, of course, nobody
would claim, as a history of the press in Ireland did in the 1930s, that British newspapers
a cultural menace diffusing, as they do, a culture that is not merely alien but growing
ever more pagan. Religion, morals and Irish nationality are threatened likewise by
this invasion (Brown 173).
There are no less than 14 Sunday newspapers available to readers in the Republic of Ireland, with total
sales of 1,261,000. We can divide them in three groups. On the one hand, there are four Irish titles, three of
them being controlled by Independent News & Media, with the Sunday Business Post now in the hands of
Thomas Crosbie Holdings, also owner of the Examiner: the Sunday Independent (sales between January
and June 2004: 291,000), the Sunday World (268,000), the Sunday Tribune (87,000) and the Sunday
Business Post (52,000). On the other hand, the British newspapers which have an Irish edition are Ireland
on Sunday (152,000), News of the World (166,000), the Sunday Mirror (45,000), the People (52,000) and the
Sunday Times (105,000). Finally, the London newspapers without any Irish edition are the Mail on Sunday
(16,000), the Sunday Express (8,500), the Independent on Sunday (3,500), the Observer (12,000) and the
Sunday Telegraph (3,000).
But this phenomenon may nonetheless have heavy consequences for the Irish press and, to
a certain extent, for Irish society in general, on at least three levels: journalistic, economic
and even political.
Firstly, while Irish newspapers were for many years able to boast that they weren’t
guilty of the worst excesses of the most sensationalist British popular press (Hussey 339,
A. & K. O’Meara 4), Irish tabloids – and not only! - may come to learn a lot from their
British rivals with which they are now competing on a daily basis. In other words, there is a
risk of what some observers already call a “murdochisation” of the Irish press. Secondly,
British tabloids have reproduced in Ireland the price war which is their daily routine in
Britain and have done so with means which are completely out of reach of any of their Irish
rivals, including the Irish Independent which, although by far the wealthiest Irish
newspaper group, is still “a relatively small fish in the ocean in which Murdoch and other
media giants swim”, to quote John Horgan again (Horgan 51). Among others, the National
Newspaper Association of Ireland complains about the situation:
The threat to indigenous media posed by British media companies, who are quite
obviously intent on utilising Ireland to increase overall circulation, is something […]
the Irish government needs to address. Backed by enormous economies of scale,
certain British publishers can afford to sell their newspapers in Ireland at a cover
price which no Irish newspaper company can possibly compete with
Thirdly, British newspapers on sale in Ireland pay a growing attention to Irish politics, and
Murdoch’s titles openly took sides in recent general elections15, suggesting that they may
be tempted to reproduce in Ireland their ability to make or break governments or political
leaders in Britain. On the whole, for many years, Irish nationalists tended to concentrate on
a potential foreign threat and to close their eyes to another important characteristic of the
Irish press: its concentration.
In the wake of globalization, the concentration of various newspapers in the hands
of one or two media groups has become quite common in many European countries
(including Portugal). In Ireland, however, this tendency is taken to an extreme with one
single group - Independent News & Media - controlling two thirds of the national titles
For example, Murdoch’s two Sunday titles, News of the World and the SundayTimes, representing
together over 200,000 newspapers
sold every weekday, and over three quarters on Sundays16. Occasionally, this group has
even come to defy its powerful British rivals on their own grounds, like when it bought the
agonizing London Independent in 1997 or, more recently, the Belfast Telegraph17, thus
extending its dominant position to Northern Ireland. This situation allows the chairman of
INM, Tony O’Reilly, to appear as the champion of Irish resistance against invasion by
foreign – meaning British - newspapers. When faced with the accusation of representing a
threat to the diversity of the national press, the Irish tycoon argues that anything is better
than falling into the hands of a foreign group. This position, however, raises a fundamental
question: is depending on a big Irish multinational systematically better than belonging to a
big British multinational?
In his introduction to a collection of essays entitled Media in Ireland: the Search for
Diversity and published in 1997, Damien Kiberd, an Irish journalist himself, gave his
opinion on the question:
Concentration of ownership can, in certain circumstances, lead to a reduction in
the diversity of views finding expression in the media. It can also reduce the
range of employment options available to journalists and editors, and can
promote a climate of self-censorship (Kiberd 8).
According to this definition, any risk of monopoly, be it Irish or foreign, is intrinsically
dangerous, since plurality of titles and diversity of ownership are two completely distinct
matters. In its conclusion, the Commission on the Newspaper Industry warned against the
any further reduction of titles or increase in concentration of ownership in the
indigenous industry could severely curtail the diversity requisite to maintain a
vigorous democracy (Horgan 163).
What can be said, then, of an Irish market where two groups, O’Reilly’s Independent and
Murdoch’s News International, control almost 60 % of all the papers sold every day, and a
record 78 % on Sundays? And where, with the notable exceptions of the Irish Times and
the Examiner, all the national newspapers belong to one powerful international group?
Among daily newspapers, Independent News & Media owns the Irish Independent, the Evening Herald
and half of the Star, as well as the Sunday Independent and the Sunday World; it also controls the Sunday
Best selling newspaper in Northern Ireland, until then property of Trinity Mirror.
To conclude, although usual indicators may make the daily press of the Republic of
Ireland appear relatively healthy, a deeper study of its characteristics tends to reveal that it
actually finds itself in a particularly fragile situation, mainly because of two factors. On the
one hand, over fifty years after the declaration of the Irish Republic and the breaking of the
last constitutional ties with Britain18, the daily press of the Republic of Ireland has still not
quite managed to emancipate from Britain. On the other hand, over the years, it has seen a
growing number of its titles fall into hands of Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News & Media
group, therefore putting at risk the diversity of its national press19. To face both these
dangers, Irish newspapers are quite left to themselves since successive Irish governments
have always refused to intervene. Even the death of the Irish Press Group in 1994 did not
bring the Irish government to do anything for the nationalist title which was the symbol of
a Gaelic, rural, Catholic and Republican Ireland defended by its founder Eamon de Valera.
What is at stake, however, is much more than the commercial interests of the daily press of
the Republic of Ireland, it may well be its very survival as a national institution.
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