MuckrakerThe Muckraker

Survivors: Why did the government remove funding from NI’s only Rape Crisis Centre?

Note: This story was published in The Muckraker Report – a short-lived, experimental magazine I created – in August 2013. In 2009, a brief, 50-word piece was published in Private Eye magazine. They were the only publication willing to publish it. Despite having a paper trail of evidence to back my claims up, I could not persuade newspaper editors in Northern Ireland to do the same. The full story has never been told.

During one interview, one of the Rape Crisis Centre’s staff told me she wanted to clear her name. Her wish is that when her great-granddaughter Googles her name, she won’t read “those news reports” and think her great grandmother did something wrong.

When I first came across this story – five years ago – and saw the injustices the Centre had suffered at the hands of Northern Ireland’s government, I promised them I would do my best to reveal the truth and get their funding back. Such is the folly of youth. Unfortunately, I learned that journalism doesn’t always change the world. The least I can do is deliver one wish for them: clearing their names. I hope readers who paid for the magazine understand why I’ve made it available for free.

Parts of the story have been updated to reflect new developments. 

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Previous Posts


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    In 2012, tech journalists Bobbie Johnson and Jim Giles raised over $140,000 on crowdfunding site Kickstarter for their new publication, Matter. The idea was simple: a digital publishing house that produced in-depth, investigative stories about science and technology (think Kindle Singles and you have an idea of what Matter stories look like). Their business model – charging readers 99¢ per story – was deemed revolutionary in an age where content is given away for free and paywalls are sneered at. Since then, they’ve been acquired - and recently announced that they’re dropping the paywall. Read More

  • Mosaic theory: Using public documents to break the next Watergate

    There’s a really interesting tidbit in this Mother Jones profile of Ryan Shaprio, an MIT PHD student and the FBI’s ”most prolific” Freedom of Information Act requester”:

     

    “In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency’s records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he’s after.

    Invoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro’s multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a “mosaic” of information whose release could “significantly and irreparably damage national security” and would have “significant deleterious effects” on the bureau’s “ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism.”

    So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. “It’s designed to be retrospective,” explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIA law. “You can’t say, ‘What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?’ because that would include all information!”

     

    One argument I’ve heard over the years is that using public records laws like the FOIA “isn’t journalism.” Critics argue it’s the equivalent of asking for the “smoking gun” and having it handed over, no questions ask. It isn’t, they claim, “real investigative journalism”.

    That’s not true – and mosaic theory proves it.

    Using public records laws to get information is an attempt Read More

  • A new dawn for The Muckraker

    Next month, The Muckraker will be 2 years old. It’s hard to believe.

    When I broke my first story, I had a plan in my head: I would grow the blog into a real news site, figure out how to make money and hire a team of reporters, part-time if needs be. We had terrific sites like The Detail but I felt Northern Ireland needed an army of investigative reporters, scrutinising public documents and holding the government to account. I didn’t really expect to make a living from it but I wanted to grow the team. Read More

  • Best way to support investigative journalism? Crowdfunding and NPR-style pledges, says poll

    PBS Mediashift ran a poll recently, asking people what they thought the best way to support investigative journalism was.

    The results were interesting. With 24.37%, the most popular option was NPR-style pledges (where the public donate money during funding drives) followed by foundation grants at 21.01%. The least popular option was “Other” (no idea what that means) but next to it was the BuzzFeed method with just 11.76%: “Drive traffic with fluff to get them to eat broccoli.” Read More

  • The Irish govt is trampling on democracy with its latest amendment to FOI law

    I was extremely dismayed today to read this. From TheStory.ie:

     

    “One of the most significant last-minute amendments to the FOI Bill 2013 is charging multiple times for what are known as multi-part or “multifaceted” requests.

    What is a multi-faceted request?

    This blog has used multifaceted requests in order to maximise the amount of information that can be obtained for the unjustifiable €15 charge. We have also demonstrated that technique to dozens of journalists in most of the national papers in Ireland and journalists working for RTE and TV3 over the past 3 years. Partly because of this activity, FOI officers began expressing concern at the number of new multi-faceted requests they were receiving.

    Under the current regime this request cost €15 upfront – before you get to search and retrieval. Under the new costs regime it will cost upwards of €75, depending on how many divisions the request is split into. Let’s round it down to a 5 part request going to 4 divisions – €60. Or 4 times the current cost.

    Did charging for multifaceted requests appear in the draft heads or the main Bill when published?

    No. Nowhere. It didn’t come up in any of the much vaunted pre-legislative scrutiny (and as David Farrell points out, this makes a mockery of pre-legislative processes). It didn’t appear in the draft heads last year. It didn’t appear in the FOI Bill 2013 published earlier this year. It was put into a list of amendments at the very end of the legislative process.”

     

    As a Northern Irish person, I may one day have to vote for or against uniting with the rest of Ireland and leaving the United Kingdom. It’s not a choice I want: I trust neither government (never mind my own) and would prefer Northern Ireland to be wholly independent (although I realise that may not be economically possible). Still, should my hand be forced, I don’t think I could bring myself to be a citizen of a Southern government, despite my upbringing in the Nationalist community. The absolute contempt with which the Irish government treats transparency and its citizens right to know makes me feel sick to my stomach. Read More

  • “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…”: The fears of the Unionist working-classes

     Note: Over the last 15 months, I’ve been working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981. Some of the insights and quotes here are drawn from my research. 

     

    Update 4th November 13:40pm: This is amazing. After tweeting this post on Twitter this afternoon, one of my followers, @andybelfast, replied: “nice piece. Tell ur ma i’m sorry.i lived in sugarfield street and helped make petrol bombs used on Kashmir rd/Bombay st.” Andy added that he was just 9 years old when he did this. It is horrible that children were used in sectarian warfare yet it illustrates a point I made recently: members of organisations like the IRA and UVF were often frightened 15 year olds. I replied to Andy and thanked him for the apology. I also apologised for the actions of my own community. I hope the day comes when we live together as one community instead of two.

     

    It feels like Northern Ireland is at a fork in the road. One way leads to the “dark old days” (a euphemism for The Troubles). The other leads to a (hopefully) permanent peace.

    Lately, I’ve been blogging/tweeting/arguing about politics a lot more than I usually do. I was eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement/Belfast agreement was signed. I didn’t see its impact until I was 16, at college and making friends with East Belfast Orangemen. By then, the notion that Protestants and Catholics couldn’t be friends was laughable. We called each other sectarian names with affection. It was our way of distancing ourselves from the pain our communities had inflicted on each other.

    We could talk about the past without being angry. My friend’s Grandfather was a B-Special. My Mum was a West Belfast Catholic who saw members of the B-Specials help loyalist mobs burn Bombay Street down. Our family histories intersected in a very tragic way yet to this day, we’re good mates. My Mum harboured no bitterness and I knew well-enough to know that no side or organisation was “all bad”.  My friend, for his part, was horrified.

    I, too, was horrified to learn of the horrors people from my community had inflicted on my friends families. If I learned anything during those two years at tech, it was that neither side could claim a monopoly on pain. Bar victims, no one could seize the moral high ground.

    Yet both sides do. That’s the problem. The peace walls in Northern Ireland are not just physical but mental. When “one of our own” is hurt, we speak out, protest, march. When something happens to “one of them’uns”, we say nothing.

    Consequently, much of the conflict was driven by the assumption and fear that the other side harboured only ill-will. This is a belief we need to abandon if we are to avoid another civil war. Read More

  • Sneak peek from the #supersecretproject

    Obviously, these pictures are related to the book. Details coming soon. Read More

  • Journalism, ageism and Northern Ireland’s Brain Drain

    Note: I don’t normally post off-topic issues like this to The Muckraker but since it involves my experiences as a young journalist, I thought I may as well. Also, The Muckraker has become my de facto home online. It feels odd to post elsewhere, even though I have a blog for more personal stuff.

     

    As a woman, I consider myself very lucky: I’ve never experienced sexism. Or if I have, it was too subtle to notice. It’s sad that I think this makes me privileged – not being subject to sexism should be a right – but not everyone has caught up with the equal rights movement yet.

    However, I do face one type of prejudice pretty regularly: ageism. Every week, I hear a derogatory remark about my age and perceived lack of wisdom/experience.

    Here’s the context: I’m 23 but I look a fair bit younger. I have a babyface. Normally, I ignore nasty remarks but the camel’s back was well and truly broken yesterday. During a conversation – in which I didn’t seek advice or try to talk about my book – the person I was meeting told me they’d heard about what I was working on. They then proceeded to lecture me on why I wouldn’t succeed. The implication was that I hadn’t thought through the risks involved because I was young and dumb so they had done it for me. What really bothered me, however, was the tone: that of an adult remonstrating with a naughty child about what they’d done wrong. It was utterly patronising.

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  • “If they kill a pastor they will kill us all.”

    There is a really interesting piece over at Anthony McIntyre’s Pensive Quill blog (one of the best political blogs in Ireland today, in my humble opinion). Anthony was speaking at an event in Newtowncunningham when Robert Bradford was mentioned:

    “The last speaker of the day was Gary Moore [Note: I've been told this gentleman's name is actually Gary Blair], a former UDA prisoner. A somewhat pronounced Ballymena accent and an affected shambling demeanour did not disguise a very astute intellect that outlined the work he was doing in the loyalist community, much of it in the area of Ulster Scots. It was easy to detect a disdain in him for big house unionism as he narrated his impoverished upbringing. One point that struck me was when he spoke of the killing of Robert Bradford and how that had impacted on perceptions. He fully understood how republicans viewed Bradford and his death but 2 elderly women, one of whom was his granny, if I am right, said that ‘if they will kill a pastor they will kill us all.’

    The impact of that on a child growing up can only be formative. From that moment on life in an armed loyalist body was the pathway he felt destined to tread along. Republicanism will be enhanced by trying to understand the multiplicity of factors that feed into the motivation behind people embracing loyalism.”

     

    This piece really made me think. Whenever I ask former Republican and Loyalist prisoners why they took up arms, I never get the answers I’m expecting: “I wanted a united Ireland so I decided to fight for one”, “I did it for God and Ulster.” The answer is always, “I did it to protect my family and community.” Read More