Belfast Telegraph

INM chairman Buckley backs Northern Ireland's quest to get the best post-Brexit deal

By Ivan Little

One of Ireland's most influential businessmen has expressed his concerns about the negative impact that Brexit will have on the Republic's economy.

Leslie Buckley, the Chairman of Independent News and Media Ltd, voiced his alarm in Belfast in front of Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster, who backed Britain's leaving the European Union.

Speaking "on a personal note" at the opening of the Belfast Telegraph's new offices, he said: "I am really concerned at the implications for the Republic of Ireland of the Brexit Vote as we are more impacted than any other member state."

And he added: "Consequently, we need to recognise, if necessary, that we can block a deal if it is not in our interest."

Mr Buckley said that it was no secret that he and his board were staunch Remain proponents, but he added that the argument had been lost and it was time to move on.

"And it is our responsibility now to support our leaders in getting the best deal for Northern Ireland on the lines indicated in the recent letter by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to the Prime Minister," he stressed.

Mr Buckley said the way forward must be grounded on an open border and continued free movement of goods across the UK and Europe.

He said that despite the Brexit vote, he still believed strongly in the future of the economy in Northern Ireland and its ability to attract foreign direct investment.

Mr Buckley commended Mrs Foster and her Executive colleagues for the plan to reduce the rate of corporation tax from 20% to 12.5% by April 2018, bringing it in line with the Republic.

"This is probably the most important announcement that will result in economic terms being the greatest reward of the peace dividend," he said.

Mr Buckley added he wanted the Republic to follow the lead of the UK in introducing a 0% VAT rate for newspapers instead of the 9.5% rate they currently have to pay. "This is a substantial burden in the face of declining readership and circulations," he added.

"We hope our Government can see the benefit to the media in Great Britain and Northern Ireland arising from a zero vat rate.

"It needs to ask itself, does it want newspapers to continue? Or indeed, is it happy to allow social and digital media to be the primary source of news moving forward?

"INM puts a huge ongoing effort into maintaining the primacy of the printed word, but we cannot do it on our own."

He also indicated the role of the media in small countries like Northern Ireland and the Republic was crucial.

"It is a hard concept to sell to citizens, Governments and politicians, but for a moment consider a Northern Ireland without the Bel Tel, Irish News and News Letter, or a Republic of Ireland without the Irish Independent, Irish Times and Examiner," he emphasised.

Mr Buckley said his board did not underestimate the challenges that lay ahead for the news media: "We see young people consuming their news free and online and advertisers unfortunately moving from paper to digital. However, we have a well-developed strategy for investment and diversification with a strong balance sheet to fund new acquisitions and initiatives.

"The pace of change is going to accelerate for us all. We must constantly innovate and find different ways of maintaining and attracting new customers."

Mr Buckley said his board had not hesitated in investing in the new headquarters and buying new publications here. He added that they believed in the business potential of the Belfast Telegraph for INM.

Mr Buckley said that a leading article published in the first edition of the Belfast Evening Telegraph 146 years ago setting out the paper's objectives could be described as an editorial charter and still rang true today, especially the section that read: "We have engaged a competent literary staff and the reports and proceedings of meetings will be found to be faithful and impartial."

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