Louder than words: Investigations inspiring political action
From blackouts to fertility funding, important issues were raised by government and opposition politicians as a result of projects by Noteworthy.
WHAT’S THE POINT? A phrase that we hear when speaking to people, often at the end of their tether, frustrated with lack of progress.
It is also at the back of our minds when spending weeks – and often months – at a time investigating complex topics, as we strive to ensure that there is a point, there is an impact.
This is not only important to us, as investigative journalists, but as a crowdfunded platform, we want to ensure that the funding and resources that you, our supporters, contribute are not wasted.
- Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.
One of the biggest impacts that our work can have is being raised by politicians which can result in changes in political positions, policies and laws.
From blackouts to fertility funding, over the past year, important issues were raised by both government and opposition politicians as a result of a number of investigations by Noteworthy. We dive into a few today.
‘Appalling examples of abuse’
In December, our HANDS ON DECK investigation found exploited migrant workers in the Irish fishing sector are being “failed” by the justice system and “ignored” in a recent cross-departmental review.
After this series was published, Patrick Costello, Green Party TD and party spokesperson for Justice, hosted an Oireachtas briefing. He invited me, as editor of Noteworthy and lead reporter on this cross-border project, to present our findings.
This took place at the end of January in Leinster House and also included presentations by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). Both organisations work with migrant fishers and are featured in our articles.
Civil servants, parliamentary assistants and politicians from a number of parties were in attendance, including Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, Independent Senator Eileen Flynn and Green Party TD Stephen Matthews.
Following the briefing, Costello spoke about the investigation in the Dáil and of the “very clear and quick reforms” being called for by the ITF and MRCI.
In response Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that “it’s clear that some, if not many, migrant fishermen are being exploited and that’s not acceptable and not something that we want to be a feature of our marine economy or the fishing industry in Ireland”.
“I’ve heard and read about some really appalling examples of abuse that aren’t far off modern day slavery.” Speaking of Minister Neale Richmond, Varadkar said he would “certainly make sure that it’s on his agenda for this year”.
There have been some improvements reported by advocates since our investigation, including migrant fishers being granted ‘Stamp 4′ visas which allow them to work without being tied to a specific employer.
Delighted to be part of Dáil briefing with @Costellop on migrant fishers' rights + protections. Great to see stamp 4's now being issued to fishers by @DeptJusticeIRL but this needs to be extended to undocumented fishers urgently pic.twitter.com/MPWef6s4YL— Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (@MigrantRightsIr) January 25, 2023
Warnings ‘raised and ignored’
Energy shortages were on the minds of many over the winter, when our LIGHTS OUT investigation revealed that staff shortages were leaving the energy regulator scrambling to keep the lights on.
Socialist Party and Solidarity TD Mick Barry, said in the Dáil that he could not take his “eyes off” our article by reporter Niall Sargent on the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) needing almost 70 more staff.
He cited a number of the articles findings, including the potential for blackouts “if the recruitment issues were not sorted”.
He said that “it seems incredible… with the Tánaiste describing things between energy supply and energy demand being very tight in this cold snap” that:
The State is operating to some extent with one hand tied behind its back.
Barry concluded: “Warnings have been raised and ignored. Will the Minister of State comment on that?”
This was not directly addressed by Environment Minister Eamon Ryan but he did say that “there is a critical role for the State in setting the standards, regulations and rules as to how this industrial revolution evolves”.
‘Falling between the gaps’
A number of other Noteworthy projects related to environmental issues were raised in recent months, including our FUELLING RETIREMENT investigation by reporter Lauren Boland which uncovered that a Climate Action Plan measure was rolled back.
In January, during a debate on the development of the Climate Action Plan 2023, Leader of the Labour Party Ivana Bacik cited our findings.
She said that we “reported that an ambition in the 2019 Climate Action Plan to tighten scrutiny regarding the investment of pension funds in fossil fuels appears to have been quietly rolled back by the Department of Social Protection almost as soon as it was published, and no delivery”.
She also noted “the absence of any such objective in more recent iterations of the climate action plan” and asked:
Why are policies such as this falling between the gaps or, indeed, being reversed?
Bacik said her party “have repeatedly called for the Department of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach to take a stronger role in keeping climate action plans on track across Departments and across State agencies”.
Labour TD Duncan Smith raised these findings again last week during another Dáil debate.
‘Story that broke overnight’
One issue that we delved into last May in our FREE DATA investigation was alleged excessive data gathering by the Department of Social Protection in relation to a database of individual free travel journeys that it held until 2020.
Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan raised this in the Seanad as a “concerning story that broke overnight”, with our investigation “on foot of a complaint made by Mr Martin McMahon”.
This week in the Seanad I raised the @noteworthy_ie story on how the Dept of Social Protection created a data base of 1 million free travel pass holders in 2018 without a legal basis and then deleted the whole thing in 2020. I have lots of questions! @TortoiseShack pic.twitter.com/FeSEhIXPKE— Lynn Boylan 🍷📖🐾 (@LNBDublin) May 6, 2022
Boylan highlighted a number of our findings, including data retention of free travel pass holders and the complete deletion of the database at the centre of the controversy.
“This raises serious questions for the Department of Social Protection.”
She said that “we should hear from the Minister regarding who ordered this mass surveillance, on what legal basis it was carried out, who ordered the deletion of the database and how much public money was spent on setting up such a database”.
This project was funded entirely by our investigative fund. Support this here >>
Finally, an older investigation that inspired People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy.
Back in December 2021, our FUNDING FERTILITY investigation showed that the private fertility sector are making millions as patients are left in debt without a public system.
A few months later Murphy spoke about his experience of IVF in the Dáil. He and his partner Jess Spear had been “going through” fertility treatment “for more than a year” at the time.
“We have already spent probably €12,000 and we could end up spending more money and it may or may not work at the end of it. We must remember that for many people who want to have kids, they simply cannot afford to do it.”
Then, in April 2022, Murphy and Spear spoke on Today with Claire Byrne. Talking about the reasons they told their story, Murphy said that “a number of couples spoke out in December of last year” as part of a “very good investigation in Noteworthy”.
And we thought ‘that’s impressive, they’re helping to draw attention to the issue’.
When the opportunity arose with the debate around the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022, he said that they felt they could make a contribution and hoped their personal story would “help to bring about change”.
The issue received a lot of coverage around this time and in Budget 2023 it was announced that publicly-funded IVF would start in September 2023, though much of the finer details of this have yet to be finalised.
There has also been positive news for Murphy and Spear, with the announcement of baby Juniper’s arrival six weeks ago.
You can listen back to people who shared their fertility treatment experiences as part of our investigation here:
What’s your point?
These investigations were sent to us by our readers, often frustrated with an ongoing issue that impacts them or their local area.
This is how Noteworthy works!
- You tell us what you want to see investigated
- We use those ideas to create projects and figure out how to tell these stories
- We come back and look for community support in funding these projects
What’s the point that you feel needs to be highlighted? Let us know: