‘Irish Times’ journalists honoured at Justice Media Awards

Expose of inaccurate Garda breath test figures, and story on rape sentences, win merit

Irish Times journalist David Labanyi has been recognised for exposing inaccurate Garda breath test figures, at the Law Society of Ireland Justice Media Awards 2017.

Mr Labanyi received a merit certificate for the story while fellow Irish Times journalist Conor Gallagher received several awards for his varied coverage of the legal system.

Last February, the article "Garda breath test figures fail to add up" revealed an audit of drink driving testing statistics after it emerged the number of tests recorded on the Garda Pulse system was significantly higher than the number of motorists tested.

The revelation put further pressure on the force which was already fighting a number of scandals.


Mr Gallagher received a certificate of merit for his work examining sentencing in rape cases. The certificates were awarded in the daily newspaper category.

Mr Gallagher was the overall winner of the digital/online news category for his series on lay litigants and received a further merit certificate for articles on drug treatment in the online features category.

Overall winners

The 2017 overall award winners were Mary Fanning, Mary Kennedy and Eileen Magnier for RTÉ's Nationwide feature on the Access Programme and Street Law.

Judges noted that, bucking the trend of more critical winning television features in the past, Nationwide produced a "heatwarming, entirely original, well-produced programme that focuses on the work being done to ensure the solicitors, barristers and judges of the future are a diverse, tech-savvy, highly-educated group".

Other winners were Shane Phelan, Irish Independent (daily newspapers); Francesca Comyn, Sunday Business Post (Sunday newspapers); Tom Mooney, Wexford Echo (regionals); Helen Bruce, Irish Daily Mail (print court reporting); Laura Hogan, TV3 News (broadcast court reporting); Cianan Brennan, The Journal (online court reporting); Evelyn O'Rourke, RTÉ Radio 1 (national radio); Marian O'Flaherty, Kerry Today (local radio); Katie Hannon and Nigel Power, RTÉ's Prime Time (TV news); Mary Fanning, Mary Kennedy and Eileen Magnier, RTÉ's Nationwide (TV documentary); Sinead O'Carroll, The Journal (online features).

Vital bridge

Speaking before the awards, which have been running since 1992, Law Society director-general Ken Murphy said they act as a vital bridge between the operation of the legal profession and the wider public.

Discussing negative media reporting on the judiciary, Mr Murphy raised last year's UK court challenge brought by Gina Miller in a bid to establish that parliament would have to vote on Brexit.

Her successful campaign led to negative newspaper coverage, with the Daily Mail in particular printing the headline "Enemies of the people" alongside photographs of the ruling judges in question.

“Thankfully we don’t have that kind of toxic, partisan newspaper [or] media coverage generally in Ireland,” he said.

“It is almost impossible to imagine the media in Ireland writing headlines of that kind. The focus of this [ceremony], what it seeks to reward is an increase in the public interest of the law and the justice system.”

Stuart Gilhooly, president of the Law Society, said in-depth investigative journalism is vital in Ireland.

“Our members are representing the interests of those often without a voice, and you can see by the standard and quality of reporting in this year’s awards, the vast majority of journalists are also driven by a need to seek the truth, raise issues and educate,” he said.

In total, Thursday’s ceremony saw 42 awards distributed with about 120 journalists in attendance.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times