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All seven Journal Media award winners from the Mary Raftery Prize across 2019, 2020, 2021. The Journal

Tributes to Journal Media reporters for three years of Mary Raftery Prize wins

Peter McVerry, presenting the awards, highlighted “powerful role” of media to expose injustice.

AN AWARDS CEREMONY named in memory of the investigative journalist Mary Raftery heard this week that the media still has a breadth of areas in which they can hold “incompetence or corruption” to account.

Longtime homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry encouraged young reporters to pursue stories of societal injustice as he made the keynote speech at the event in DCU on Wednesday evening. The event was being held to mark three years of the Mary Raftery Prize for social affairs journalism on the island of Ireland.

Covid restrictions had put paid to previous in-person ceremonies for the prize; this week’s ceremony saw the awarding of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 prizes, all of which were won by teams from or reporters published by Journal Media.

Fr McVerry congratulated the winners, saying: “You have a very powerful role to play, a very important role in making our society a more just society.”

Speaking to the audience at the Seamus Heaney Theatre at the DCU Drumcondra campus, he called out the “enormous incompetence” that can still exist at the highest levels of politics and society and asked journalists to respond to the public when citizens highlight concerns and injustice that they are experiencing.

All of the journalists awarded on the night paid particular tribute to the legacy of Mary Raftery whose reporting into religious and institutional child abuse in Ireland led to the establishment of commissions of inquiry and made her one of the most important and influential Irish journalists of modern times.

The Prize is awarded annually to individuals or teams for work is judged to combine “the rigorous analysis and commitment to social justice that characterised Mary Raftery’s journalism, and resulted in a significant impact on society”.

IMG_0075 Cormac Fitzgerald, Michelle Hennessy and Maria Delaney, 2021 winners, and Peter McGuire, 2020 winner. Noteworthy Noteworthy

The most recent – for work completed in 2021 – went to Maria Delaney, Michelle Hennessy and Cormac Fitzgerald of and The Journal for the Tough Start series on the institutional challenges and bias faced by Traveller children from birth. 

The judging panel described the series as “superb investigative journalism, approached with an indefatigable attitude”. The team was praised for “working hard to gain the trust of the Traveller community”, for “uncovering issues that are not widely known”, including reduced school days and over-representation of Travellers in prison, and for excellent use of graphics, official sources, expert opinions (from within the Traveller community), and narrative extracts from discussions with children.

The 2020 prize went to Peter McGuire for his work on Noteworthy, Speak or Survive, on the roadblocks placed in front of sexual abuse survivors trying to achieve justice for the crimes against them. 

His work was described as “a very balanced, nuanced, blend of personal experience and policy analysis that spoke to the heart of an important matter of public importance”.

Stardust pic The Stardust podcast team of Christine Bohan, Seán Murray, Nicky Ryan, 2019 winners. The Journal The Journal

The 2019 prize was awarded to the team of Sean Murray, Nicky Ryan and Christine Bohan for their work on the Stardust podcast from The Journal. The six-part series was commended as “a powerful podcast, forming a compelling narrative of lost life, an inadequate response from state institutions, and a lasting sense of abandonment and injustice in a bereft working class community”.

All winners received a cash prize and a medal bearing a quotation from Mary Raftery, made the year before her untimely death in 2012: “The most important thing you can do is to give a voice to people who have been silenced.”

Submissions for the next Mary Raftery Prize will open this summer; reporters and editors should follow @RafteryPrize on Twitter for updates and find out more about Mary Raftery, her work and legacy here.