O'Reilly: a career of spectacular brilliance

By any standards he has been extraordinarily successful in business. He started in a small company in Cork, Sutton's, as an employee in 1960 and today he is one of the most powerful business people in Ireland, by far the most commanding presence in the Irish media, along with business interests around the world.

He was born on 6 May 1936 (71 this year), educated at Belvedere College (Jesuit), UCD and the Incorporated Law Society (as it was then), from where he qualified as a solicitor. He later acquired a PhD in agricultural marketing from Bradford University in the UK.

He became a famous rugby player by the age of 18, when he was first capped for Ireland in 1955. 15 years later, in 1970, he got his last cap but in the interval he toured twice with the British and Irish Lions and became one of the best-know players of his day. He played in South Africa during the apartheid era and was an opponent of the sports boycott right until the end of apartheid.

He joined the Irish Dairy Board in 1962. Charlie Haughey appointed him head of the Irish Sugar Company in 1966. He joined the international food corporation, Heinz in 1969 and became chairman of the corporation worldwide in 1987. He boasts he increased the company's value fifteen fold from $908 million to $11 billion in 1998 when he retired.

He bought into Independent Newspapers in 1973 on borrowed money. He needed the company to spin off cash to meet the servicing of his debts. In the 1980s and 1990s the company (by then Independent News and Media – IN&M) bought newspapers in Australia,  South Africa and New Zealand. In 1995 he bought the London Independent. The company in recent years has extended into India.

According to the company's web site: “IN&M PLC is a leading international media and communications group, with its main interests in Australia, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Spanning four continents and 21 individual countries, INM is the market leading newspaper publisher in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa and is the market-leading regional newspaper publisher in Australia and India. In the United Kingdom, Independent owns the largest newspaper group in Northern Ireland and publishes the quality, award winning, Independent titles from London.

“Across these regions, the Group publishes over 175 newspaper and magazine titles with a weekly circulation of over 31 million copies and operates over 70 on-line editorial and classified sites.

“The Group is also the largest radio (with 128 stations and an audience exceeding 5 million people (10 + years) and outdoor advertising operator in Australasia.... The Group....  manages gross assets of €4.0 billion, turnover of over €1.8 billion and employs over 10,400 people worldwide.”

Aside from that he has a controlling interest in a holding company, Fitzwilton and a large shareholding in Waterford Wedgwood. He led a consortium, Valentia, to purchase Eircom.

Tony O'Reilly is scheduled to be a key witness at a future module of the Planning Tribunal enquires into a payment to Ray Burke in June 1989 of £30,000 by one of O'Reilly's companies, Fitzwilton. The payment was made by way of a cheque made payable to cash and it was misrepresented in the Fitzwilton annual accounts.

At the time, June 1989, Ray Burke had responsibility for the Department of Communications, which had responsibility for regulating the television deflector area. O'Reilly had a major interest in this, through Princes Holdings. If the Tribunal gets to this module (O'Reilly is challenging in the High Court the Tribunal's intended plans), one of its enquires is expected to focus on whether there was any link between the £30,000 payment and the corporate interest in television deflectors.