‘Irish Examiner’ reporters win journalism award for ‘Grace’ story

Two members of the Irish Examiner political staff have secured a top journalism award for their analysis of the treatment of a young woman who suffered a litany of abuse in a foster home.

Political editor Daniel McConnell and political correspondent Fiachra Ó Cionnaith received the ‘News Analysis’ award at the NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards, presented in Dublin last night.

They were honoured for their dedicated coverage of the ‘Grace’ scandal.

‘Grace’ was at the heart of a foster care sex-abuse scandal over a 20-year period. The intellectually disabled child, who is now in her 40s, was sent back to the foster home she was abused in after she was hospitalised for bruising on her thighs and breasts because of confusion at the hospital as to what to do with her.

A 2012 Conal Devine Report and the Resilience Ireland Report found Grace suffered significant physical injuries, as well as horrendous neglect, before being removed from the home in 2009. A number of articles on the issue written by Fiachra and Daniel led to the establishment of a commission of investigation into the scandal.

Allan Prosser, acting editor of the Irish Examiner, said some newspapers win awards for style and some win them for substance.

“We prefer the latter,” he said. “The work carried out by Daniel McConnell and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith in revealing the facts of the ‘Grace’ case has been painstaking, dedicated and meticulous and is in the best traditions of Irish and international journalism.

“They have served the interests of people who were otherwise voiceless. We are proud of them and hope their readers are too.”

Catherine Fegan, feature writer with the Irish Daily Mail and The Irish Mail on Sunday won the overall Journalist of the Year award.

She had already been chosen as the winner of the Features (Popular) category for her reporting on stories including road safety in Co Donegal and budget cuts in the HSE.

Also at the Journalism Awards, the newspaper industry presented a Special Contribution to Investigative Research award to the renowned historian Catherine Corless, whose reporting brought the plight of the Tuam Babies to light.

NewsBrands Ireland chairman Vincent Crowley described the awards as “a celebration of talent, curiosity, courage and dogged dedication to the art of journalism”.

He also warned, however, the industry faces a number of important challenges.

“[The awards] are also a timely reminder of the importance of a free press in Ireland today,” said Mr Crowley.

“Freedom of expression remains a keystone of our democracy and in today’s world, the vital role of newspapers is more important than ever.

“It is of utmost importance that journalism is protected by a legislative framework that empowers journalists to do their jobs, that is, to inform the public and to hold accountable all those in positions of power. ”

Addressing Communications Minister Denis Naughton, who attended the awards, Mr Crowley also described the current Vat rate of 9% on newspapers as a “tax on reading, literacy and information” and again called on the Government to reduce the Vat rate on newspapers to zero.

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