JOHNSTON Press has sold its Republic of Ireland newspapers for £7.2 million in cash, but is to retain its Northern Ireland interests, writes Simon Bain.

The Edinburgh-based publisher's Irish acquisitions helped fuel its £692m of debt before the crash, after it paid £65m for Local Press with 12 titles on both sides of the Border, then £115m for the Leinster Leader/Donegal Democrat group comprising of six weeklies and an evening paper in Limerick.

Months ago Johnston was said to be in discussions over a £10m sale of the Irish titles to Mediaforce, and the buyer announced yesterday, Iconic Newspapers, is part of the Mediaforce group.

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Ashley Highfield, Johnston's chief executive, said the disposal would "increase our ability to focus on the growth of our business in the UK and in particular our digital initiatives, in line with our stated strategy." The shares rose 1.25p to 23.25p.