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July 28th 2004

Multi-million deals

Despite protests to the contrary, it is likely that Highland Radio is on the market. According to the Irish Independent’s ‘Business News’ of July 15th, seven shareholders each own about 14% of the station, with manager, Charlie Collins, and promotions boss, Shaun Doherty, also having stakes. The company posted an operating profit of €283,000 in 2003. A moratorium on its sale expires in February 2005.
The going rates for the more successful broadcasters such as Highland, ranges from €9-€12 million. Indeed Galway Bay FM was in the news last week, when it was reported that Scottish Holdings had withdrawn its bid for the station, when told that the asking price was €17 million. A nice wee return for a relatively small investment.
And what’s the betting, when the window of opportunity opens, that Mid-West will hoist the ‘For Sale’ sign? So badly has CEO, Paul Claffey, been stung by the removal of the North-West licence, that he should have no bother convincing the western shareholders to get out while the going is good.
However, bids this station could attract have been greatly diminished by the loss of its northern counterpart. Whether Mid-West will be so desirable to investors without its network brother, is debatable – after September 1st, its income will certainly diminish and costs increase, as economies of scale are virtually halved - and the benefit of a 20% stake in NWR is wiped out.
Meanwhile Ocean FM has placed its first job ads, seeking experienced people to fill a wide range of positions, including presenters, news/sports reporters, technical engineers and accounts people. The big question is - which way will star performer, Tommy Marron, jump? Certainly the value of his services, in a bidding war, is bound to shoot up.
A member of the Ocean team, speaking to Donegal Times, said that its recruiters will be happy to interview current NWR staff, but, surprisingly, he asserted that Ocean will not be taking over any of the premises or equipment presently being used by the incumbents. From now to October 5th seems a short period in which to set up a totally new operation - but that obviously is the plan!
Of course, North West is still threatening an appeal to the Supreme Court. But more rational voices among its shareholders are urging caution. Crosbie Holdings, owners of the Western People and Sligo Weekender, want to back off, and, in such a situation, it’s hard to visualise organisations like the North Western Health Board and the Council of Churches risking large amounts of money in a legal gamble that has little chance of succeeding.

Minister turns sod on new by-pass and Mary reminds him of route 56

Ministers Coughlan and Brennan with Aidan O’Doherty, NRA, Sean Ward and reception group at the Milltown Bar Photo by Margaret Gallagher

Last Friday, when Minister Seamus Brennan arrived in the area to kick-start the new Ballyshannon/Bundoran bypass, our girl, Mary Coughlan, made sure his attention was drawn to one of the worst stretches of road in the county, the N56, between Mountcharles and Killybegs. Listed as the busiest secondary route in the country, it carries an immense amount of heavy vehicles heading for the fishing port. Prior to his sod-turning at Tullaghan, Mary showed Minister Brennan some of the black spots on the road.
Later at a brief meeting with local people and NRA personnel in the Milltown Bar, Mr Brennan confessed that it had been his first time to see the condition of the road for himself. “Having parked at McMonagle’s to watch the flow of traffic, which included a lot of heavy goods vehicles, the picture became more clear as to what is needed.”
With the proposed extension to the Mountcharles by-pass not likely for at least 5 years, Minister Coughlan said that the local people were not looking for a motorway – just a safe road. Fish processor, Sean Ward, claimed the worst section was from the Frosses cross-roads to Sean Craig’s. When asked about existing traffic flow, NRA executive engineer, Aidan O’Doherty, said it was around 7,000 vehicles a day. Minister Brennan said this was an important figure in seeking to secure funding.
Aidan O’Doherty told the gathering that the new route for the by-pass to Killybegs would be agreed by the end of the year, and cost in the region of €50 million. There was a lot of comment from the local people present, one person declaring “we have a state of the art pier in Killybegs, the premier port in Ireland - but no main road to get to it. It’s not good enough to be told it will take years, immediate action is needed.”
In answer to Minister Brennan, Mr O’Doherty said there was work on-going at the moment but €500,000 would be needed in 2005 to make the road safe. Minister Brennan promised to give this holding operation all his support, saying, “that figure is not excessive when you consider €600 million spent on Luas.”
When the meeting ended, Sean, Muriel, Elaine and staff put up a lavish buffet, with Minister Brennan commenting on the delicious fresh salmon from - where else? - Inver Bay of course!

Leader of the band

Young Owen McGee sets the beat as the St Catherine’s Band, Killybegs, marches into Dunkineely with the new Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Conaghan
Photo by Jason McGarrigle

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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