Johnston Press sells 14 regional titles

The Johnston Press media group has sold its fourteen regional newspaper titles to Iconic Newspapers Limited, a company run by British advertising executive Malcolm Denmark.

It's believed the titles were sold for in the region of €8.5m, however Mr Denmark would not disclose the figure.

In 2005, Johnston Press paid about £115m to acquire regional and local papers in the Republic, such as the Limerick Leader, Donegal Democrat and Kilkenny People.

The sell-off is part of the strategy being pursued by Johnston's chief executive, Ashley Highfield, as he seeks to ease the burden of the company's £300m debt pile.

Johnston's newspapers in Northern Ireland, such as the Derry Journal and the Ballymena Times, are not included in the sale.

The sale went through at around midday and was confirmed by the Iconic Newspapers owner while he was attending at the Limerick Person of the Year Awards as a guest of the Limerick Leader newspaper.

The Limerick Chronicle, the oldest newspaper in the country has been bought as part of the sale along with the Limerick Leader, its sister publication, which celebrates 125 years in business.

"I feel lucky and privileged to have bought the Limerick Leader. It has come back into private hands. The Limerick Chronicle is the oldest paper in Ireland and I think it is a title that is very important to what we want to do," Mr Denmark said.

"We want to get more involved in and re-engage with the communities where more investment is needed," he added.

"It's really important that we are not part of a corporate group. I am not trying to bring an English solution to Ireland," Mr Denmark said.

The UK businessman who owns 14 firms in total added: "I own Media Force too but this is not part of that. This is Iconic Newspapers and we believe we have bought iconic brands."

Editor of the Limerick Leader, Alan English, said the newspaper was "moving into a new phase" "in our 125th year".

He added: "It's a new dawn and I'm very much looking forward to working with Malcolm and the new team."

Other well known titles acquired as part of the Iconic Newspapers takeover include the Donegal Democrat, Kilkenny People, Leinster Leader, Leinster Express, Donegal Democrat, Longford Leader, Leitrim Observer, and the Nationalist.

The Tipperary Star, the Munster Advertiser (based in Clonmel), South Tipp Today and the Donegal People’s Press have also been sold in the deal.

Johnston Press reported a total loss of £287 million for 2013 after it recognised a writedown of £202 million on the value of its Irish newspapers and almost £64 million on its printing presses.

Despite the heavy losses, Johnston Press said its underlying operating profit increased 2.5 per cent to £54.3 million.

Iconic Newspapers Limited was set up on November 29, 2013 in Dublin 2. It's current directors Malcolm Denmark, David Fordham and Ian Springett have been the directors of four other Irish companies between them.

Johnston Press are expected to release a statement today.

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