Independent News & Media, owner of the Belfast Telegraph, has scored a world first with the opening of a revolutionary new printing plant in Newry.
The multi-million pound investment, supported by Invest Northern Ireland, cements the Belfast Telegraph's ranking as, by far, the largest printing centre in Ireland, producing some four million newspapers each week covering 32 titles.
The official opening of the plant at Carnbane was conducted by Seamus Mallon, former SDLP deputy leader and former MP for the area.
The state-of-the-art Goss Flexible Printing System presses in Newry are the first of their kind in the world to be commissioned. They will enable IN& M to print, in full colour, both traditional newspapers and magazine-quality products in a variety of formats.
The Newry plant means that IN&M has invested more than £45m in its printing operations during the last three years.
The other investments include two new presses at the Belfast Telegraph and the development of the Citywest plant in Dublin.
The investment in Newry has been spurred, in part, by the signing of a £68m 15-year contract with News International to print the Sun and the all-Ireland run of the News Of The World.
Speaking at the ceremony, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, chief executive of IN&M, said: "An important reason for investing in Newry is because we like Northern Ireland. We like it as a place to do business, because of its work ethic, its lower cost structure than the Republic and because we believe it is a market which could become as prosperous as the South if only it could bat on a level playing field."
Sir Anthony added: "With the new Assembly and Executive about to start, Northern Ireland has all the ingredients for becoming a major growth market with one exception: tax."
He pointed out that the Republic's 12.5% corporation tax rate "has been the single most important driver of the Celtic Tiger".
Some 90% of the Republic's manufactured exports and 70% of its serviced exports are provided by foreign-owned firms.
Sir Anthony said: "Today the Republic is a third richer than Northern Ireland in terms of per capita income.
"It does not have to be so. A simple change of tax by the Chancellor should change all that in a moment. What a place Northern Ireland would be then."
Gavin O'Reilly, chief operating officer of IN&M, said that, contrary to the opinions of critics, the newspaper industry globally is growing, thanks to investment and innovation by publishers.
He added: "Our substantial and well-timed investment here in Newry is proof positive of that approach and underscores why IN&M is often regarded as being a trailblazer for so many other newspaper groups worldwide.
"Our investment in Newry was about clearly seeing a vision of what newspaper publishing will be about in the years ahead.
"Clearly, we knew that the market will be demanding more colour - but in forecasting the pace of innovation for our brands, we also needed to find a production solution that not only gave us more colour, but gave us the possibility to dramatically enhance production values with heat-set gloss and variable printing size capabilities, and to do so at a substantially lower unit cost."
Leslie Morrison, chief executive of Invest NI, said: "Independent News and Media had a number of location options for this project and we are therefore delighted that Invest NI's support has played a role in securing the investment for Northern Ireland. Our support is based on the export dimension and innovative aspects of the project along with the quality of employment which will result.
"The export dimension is primarily based on the News International contract which will see the production of existing titles to be sold in the ROI, while the innovative aspect is reflected in the fact that part of this investment is in the first presses of their type in the world."
Invest NI also supported IN&M's investment in new presses at the Belfast Telegraph in 2005.