Irish TV ceases productions ‘with immediate effect’ as millionaire backer says he doesn’t want to be the only one
By Bernard Purcell
Irish TV, the husband and wife owned television station in Mayo backed by London millionaire John Griffin, is understood to have been told to find new backers.
In the meantime it has told staff it is ceasing production while accountants KPMG have been called in to look at the company’s options and how it might survive.
Griffin, who made £150 million from the sale of the huge minicab company he co-founded, Addison Lee, has told them he is no longer prepared to be the station’s sole funder.
Pierce O’Reilly, who with his wife Mairead Ni Mhaoilchiarain owns Teilifis Mhaigh Eo and Mhaigh Eo Teoranta, said it costs at least €10m a year to run the loss-making station.
Mhaigh Eo Teoranta lost €1.9m in 2014, bringing accumulated losses to €2.2m. A related company, Irish TV (NI), lost almost €280,000. Last year Mr Griffin sank €3m more into the station.
At the time he said that while he did not want to spend money unnecessarily but added “whatever it takes to make Irish TV work, I will supply.”
It is unclear whether that was part of the original €15m pledged by Griffin or whether that entire sum has been disbursed. In September Griffin said he was unhappy that Saorview, Ireland’s equivalent of Freeview, wanted a €3m bond from Irish TV to carry the channel, in addition to a €1m-a-year transmission fee.
He is also reported to have been unpleasantly surprised at the cost of the station’s recent live coverage of Ireland’s National Ploughing Championships, described by someone with close knowledge of the discussions that followed as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as far as he was concerned.
The privately-owned station has complained that it does not receive a share of Ireland’s television license fee and argued that it should receive a share of emigrant support funding because its target audience is the diaspora.
The married couple have two of the three directorships, Mairead is the company secretary, and Griffin has the fourth directorship which he assumed in July 2014 after meeting O’Reilly in a pub in Camden.
In recent weeks O’Reilly has reported to be contacting finance houses to secure new backers and or to expand the shareholder base.
The London-Irish son of parents from Kerry and Mayo two years ago publicly pledged €15 million to the struggling station which has yet to register large audiences despite being aimed at the worldwide Irish diaspora.
He said he believed his investment would be worth £200m within a couple of years – later predicting the venture could be worth a billion pounds – and that the Irish community in the UK would be key to its success. But Griffin, 74, who says his great natural skill is “making money”, admitted that what he knew about television and TV production could be written on the back of a postage stamp.
At the weekend the husband and wife owners of the station wrote to staff, contributors and producers to say it was halting production until new backers could be found.
It has been an extremely difficult week for everyone in Irish TV and we want to update and keep everyone informed of what is happening.
We are actively looking for new investors to support the company and secure its future and especially all of the people that work with Irish TV.
Unfortunately the situation has unfolded this week means that we need to suspend all productions with immediate effect until further notice. Unfortunately this is a necessary and unavoidable measure at present. We want to thank you for your understanding and patience at this difficult time for the company.
We will keep you informed and will come up with the best possible solution and we are wholly committed to continuing the channel operations. Your Sincerely, Mairead and Pierce”
Irish TV says it employs about 150.