Given Denis O’Brien’s significant shareholding, it is time the Independent board acted in unison so the group can become strong and united again

The star of success or good fortune in Denis O'Brien's firmament is in the ascendant. He has suffered unparalleled abuse and misrepresentation, of calumny and adverse opinion in the media, coming through it without a finger being laid on him.

The only comparable figure, suffering in recent years a totally undeserved assault by the media, and notably by RTE, associating him at one point with gang warfare and murder, was Declan Ganley. The attacks were biased, relentless and agenda led.

Mr Ganley, like Mr O'Brien, came through it bruised and annoyed -- who would not have been? -- yet essentially undamaged.

The media agenda was based on envy and class prejudice. These are wealthy men and in a simplistic and banal way this makes them legitimate targets for journalists, whose inventiveness, when fuelled by prejudice, is the stuff of circus.

Given Mr O'Brien's significant shareholding in this group, it is time for the board to set aside all differences and act in unison.

Starting in 1967 with Hector Legge on the 'Sunday Independent' and gravitating to the Irish Independent shortly afterwards, I conclude after close on 50 years that a hard and focused assessment of the immediate and longer-term future for the group is and must be the primary objective.

Singleness of purpose must be inspired and shared by the men and women who are the group's lifeblood.

Mr O'Brien has been described as an 'oligarch', the word used inaccurately by Pat Rabbitte as a description of the exercise of power.

It suits the minister more than Mr O'Brien.

Like the civil war within the Independent group, this public political debate shows a marked divide between the parties in power, with Labour waiting for the transfer of the communications portfolio to Pat Rabbitte with a display of ill-conceived animosity against Mr O'Brien.

The Government has a better media target to consider -- the monster elephant in the drawing room, RTE.

Unlike Independent News and Media, which retains widespread public trust, RTE has lost both this and any semblance of public service broadcasting.

The station is an expensive mess, costing the taxpayer a fortune as it flounders.

If Mr Rabbitte looks carefully in the mirror he will find the oligarch who doesn't know what to do about RTE.

I come to the Moriarty Tribunal, the source of opinion-based judgments that do not have the force of judicial process.

As Mr O'Brien has said, not only is the Moriarty Tribunal not a judicial tribunal, it forms no part of the administration of justice and is not part of any legal process. It is a political apology for the law's inadequacies in wrestling with supposed malfeasances.

It is not to be dismissed, however. Its report did not demand proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is the criminal standard. The judge applied the civil standard, proof on a balance of probabilities.

In its aftermath it cannot be denied that there are suspicious circumstances, enough to deny a person an important public role; but Mr O'Brien, powerful though he is, occupies a private role.

Changing this in order to prejudice or curtail him, which seems to be Labour's intent, is inappropriate.

Mr O'Brien makes the point that "the Supreme Court has delivered judgment after judgment (see the Murphy case and Bovale Developments by way of example) where they have been at pains to clarify this misconception" (about the limited and widely misunderstood role of tribunals), pointing out that "the chairman, although a High Court judge, most certainly did not sit in that capacity".

Mr O'Brien is right that proof and evidence applicable in the Irish court process are not exercised by modern-day Irish tribunals.

They are based on opinion, they are largely devoid of legal consequence and their legal effect, or so it appears, is sterile.

As to the Moriarty Tribunal's opinions on the second mobile phone licence, not a single witness gave evidence in 10 years of public sittings that Michael Lowry interfered with or acted improperly in respect of the licence process. We may think he did, but, as we count the huge cost, we don't know.

Mr O'Brien has said: "Evidence was given to the tribunal by (amongst others) 17 respected and senior civil servants, five government ministers, one former Taoiseach, two senior officials from the Office of the Attorney General, one senior counsel to the Irish State and one senior official from the European Commission. Every one of these witnesses testified unequivocally that they had no knowledge of any interference in the licence process on the part of Michael Lowry."

Mr O'Brien has a big problem. The group over which he could exercise control, and to which he brings energy and a record of success in other media fields, is divided, demoralised and in debt.

It has to sort out its finances and grow back into the powerful and forceful voice in this country to which I have dedicated my energies as a journalist throughout my working life.

We need a neutral management not under the thumb of either faction.

Only if the board is governed by this principle will it and management be in a position to give all the necessary time and energy to making the group flourish. Editors should be judged on whether they deliver commercially.

I want the group to become strong and united again, bringing to the life of this country the talent, the investigative resources, the writing skills and the judgments that have made it the best newspaper group the country has ever had. I am proud of this.

The group's achievements have been kept up to the mark through a long period of difficulty. We will go on delivering reliable and trustworthy news, comment and analysis about this country's affairs, without fear or favour, and with well-judged balance and fairness. We check with the lawyers before making asses of ourselves.

Perhaps we want and need regulation. But we don't want it from outside.

Even with all our legal safeguards, the Independent group has had some pretty large libel awards made against it.

I want the group's enemies, politicians who seek to break it up, journalists who write vindictive, ill-informed and stupid commentary on its most significant shareholder, to turn off the stream of bile and deal with the facts.

They can let the law do its business, if there is need for that.

The Irish public will respond, with a surge of renewed trust, to what we on the staff deliver by our own sweat and blood.