The Irish Examiner columnist Michael Clifford told aspiring journalists how much he loves picking up one thread of a story and then finding another.

The 2016 NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year was speaking at a national competition that encourages students to read newspapers.

This year more than 8,000 transition year students took part in the NewsBrands Ireland Press Pass initiative and yesterday in Dublin’s Convention Centre, 16 national finalists were awarded for their journalist endeavours.

Mr Clifford said he was an engineer before moving into journalism in his late 20s and loves being at the centre of things and conveying what is happening to readers.

One issue could lead to another and become a story of major public interest: “You can pull one thread, and it leads to another.”

“Believe me, it is a career that is certainly very rewarding. You won’t get rich, but you will have a hell of a lot of good times along the way,” said Mr Clifford.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, who presented the students with their awards, said newspapers have a vital role to play in any free society.

“They are the watchdogs, chroniclers, and the eyes and ears that go where most cannot be. Just look at the past few weeks — good journalism in Ireland has helped to uncover some of the most unpleasant scandals of our past.”

Mr McGrath praised Mr Clifford for bringing the plight of Garda whistle blower Sgt Maurice McCabe to national attention. He also praised another Irish Examiner journalist, Conall Ó Fátharta, for his lengthy and in-depth investigations into the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Two other Irish Examiner writers, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Daniel McConnell, were praised for their investigation into alleged abuse at a foster care home in the South East that led to the ‘Grace’ inquiry.

Mr McGrath said Press Pass is a fantastic initiative that promotes literacy and critical thinking skills by bringing newspapers into classrooms and encouraging students to study them in depth: “When you engage with newspapers you engage with society.

"When young people engage with society, that society benefits enormously from their input and their energy.”

NewsBrands Ireland chairman Vincent Crowley thanked Irish Examiner news editor John O’Mahony and the newspaper’s marketing graphic artist, Edward Butt, for producing the Press Pass guidebook.

Participating schools receive newspapers and a specially-created workbook free of charge. The students are encouraged to read and analyse the newspapers and submit an original work of journalism.

This year’s overall winner is Tomás Ó hUallacháin from Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne, An Daingean, Co Kerry. Tomás is one of three national winners from Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.

His English teachers, Fergal Daly and Fiona Kirwan, said Tomás picked up on a good news story after his neighbour, Tomás Mac an t-Saoir, pedalled across America to raise funds and awareness for the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation.

Chairman of the judging panel, the former press ombudsman Prof John Horgan, said Tomás engaged the reader from start to finish in a way many professional journalists would salute.

As well as the overall winner there were five category winners:

Features:

Caitríona Ní Chonaill, Coláiste Ghobnatan, Baile Mhic Íre, Co Cork.

Opinion:

Síofra O’Dwyer, Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana, Co Donegal.

News:

Kate Ní Dhubháin, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne, An Daingean, Co Kerry.

Sport:

Emma McGoey, Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford.

Photojournalism:

Jack Farrell, Causeway Comprehensive School, Causeway, Co Kerry.

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