‘Irish Times’ columnist Fintan O’Toole wins Orwell Prize for Journalism

Journalist’s analysis of Brexit added ‘highly important perspective’ to debate

Irish Times journalist Fintan O'Toole has won the Orwell Prize for Journalism for his commentary on the Brexit referendum.

He was awarded the prestigious prize at a ceremony in University College London on Thursday evening.

O'Toole, an assistant editor and columnist at The Irish Times, won the award ahead of several leading British journalists.

The Orwell Prize for Journalism, awarded for political writing, was started in 1993. It is run by the Orwell Foundation, and the annual awards are used to celebrate "honest writing and reporting" that confronts "uncomfortable truths".


Brexit fantasy

O'Toole's winning selection of articles included his front-page commentary for The Irish Times the day after the UK referendum, which was titled "Brexit fantasy is about to come crashing down", and an influential piece in the Guardian newspaper, titled "The English have placed a bomb under the Irish peace process".

At the award ceremony, O’Toole said “the greatest honour of all is to be in the same sentence as George Orwell”.

“To win anything with the name George Orwell in it, probably the greatest political writer of the 20th century, is an absolute honour, to any journalist.”

Quality, independent journalism was needed more than ever in the turbulent political climate globally, he said.

“Good journalism is the lifeblood of democracy. You have to have a desire to serve society rather than serve an interest. To give an honest version of what is going on, and an honest analysis of why it is going on, rather than someone else’s agenda.”

The judges included Dame Liz Forgan, former BBC special correspondent Allan Little and journalist Francis Wheen.

Commending O’Toole, Ms Forgan said: “It’s not often that penetrating intelligence, a keen historical understanding and sparkling prose coincide in one journalist.

“When he is uniquely placed to write about one of the biggest issues of the day from an unusual but highly important perspective, we are all in luck.

‘Existential implications’

“Fintan O’Toole knocks the usual Brexit arguments about City jobs and fruit-pickers into proper shape by focusing eloquently on the existential implications of the referendum for everyone on the island of Ireland. If only the whole campaign had been conducted with such style and seriousness.”

In April, O’Toole won the European Press Prize award in the commentary category for his coverage of the Brexit vote and its consequences for the Irish peace process.

He is the second Irish journalist to win the award, following the London Independent's Patrick Cockburn, who won in 2009.

Belfast-born historian John Bew was awarded this year's Orwell Prize for Books for his biography of late British prime minister Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times