Names like Terry Wogan, Eamonn Andrews, Enda Brady, Graham Norton, Mary Kenny, Craig Doyle, Orla Guerin, Fergal Keane are household names, reflecting the success of Irish people in the UK media.
However, one thing they all have in common is that they are based in London; as I will explain, if based outside the capital, where 65% of media jobs are, such a career would be near impossible.
My journey in journalism
My own background is that I worked as a journalist in Ireland in the past, over 18 years with the now-closed Offaly Express in the Midlands. Circumstances took me to London, where I reported for the Romford Recorder before becoming a sub-editor with one of the world’s top media firms, Associated Press.
An ill-fated return to Ireland, based on a misunderstanding about job security, saw me be made redundant almost immediately in the economic crash 14 years ago, and that was effectively the end of my journalism career, save for two short-term roles.
In the years since then, while the wider Irish economy has recovered, its newspaper industry has continued to decline. My hometown of Tullamore once boasted three local papers and now has just one, but the latter’s staff levels are no higher than what they were.
After being made redundant, it took one of my old colleagues nine years to get a staff job, for another colleague it took 13 years, and Irish media jobs continue to be slashed on a regular basis. It’s no surprise then, that many Irish journalists continue to move to Britain but the vast majority settle in London.
Indirect racial discrimination
I returned to England in 2011 but could not afford to return to London. I had hoped I would find work in the regional newspapers, but my biggest barrier was their insistence on NCTJ qualifications.
Time and again, I have tried to get across to them that Irish people won’t have that qualification, precisely because it is a British one, but my appeals fall on deaf ears in Reach, Newsquest and National World.
They fail to grasp that UK law says that insisting on a British qualification is indirect race discrimination, despite companies saying they have NCTJ graduates who are immigrants.
Some will ask why I didn’t do the course anyway and the answer is that I started, but it wasn’t feasible to complete for various reasons, the main one being that at the time there was a requirement to do shorthand, which would be impossible for me as I have mild cerebral palsy.
My understanding is that this has been modified somewhat in view of the case of Kyle Gunn in Scotland, but it is still required on some modules.
Moreover, a great many media outlets stipulate that shorthand is a requirement, so in essence they are saying ‘no one with cerebral palsy or other neurodiverse conditions should apply.’
So, a combination of a condition I was born with and the country I grew up in means that I am not allowed to work in regional journalism. As I said above, this was never an issue in London, and I know of several Irish journalists based there who don’t have NCTJ.
It doesn’t work both ways
In other words, Irish journalists may work in Lambeth but not Liverpool, Merton but not Manchester, Barking but not Bolton, Camden but not Carlisle, Lewisham but not Lancaster, Tooting but not Tameside.
As far as I can ascertain, only one person from the Republic works in the British regional media, namely Mick O’Reilly, who edits Cambrian News in Wales.
The industry shows an unwillingness to discuss the reasons for this requirement – one editor of a national paper admitted to me that she had never realised the NCTJ rule affected Irish people and said that the media should provide training for immigrants instead of excluding them for not having trained in Britain.
It’s worth noting that this does not apply in reverse – British journalists have been known to work in Irish regional titles. When I worked in Offaly Express, our main competitor was the Tullamore Tribune, which has boasted a Scotsman and an Englishman on its staff down the years. The latter, Nick Miller from Dorset, is now a media adviser to the Irish Government.
Prejudice against non-Brits
One retired editor told me it would be irresponsible to employ an Irishman, that I would not understand English law and would close down a newspaper as a result, yet the reality is that libel and defamation laws in the Republic are, if anything, stricter than here.
It must also be said that it’s not only Irish people who are affected by this, journalists from other countries also encounter prejudice. Camille Dupont is a French woman who actually has a NCTJ but finds it hard to get work as editors assume she can’t speak English.
Italian-born Barbara Serra also addresses this issue here:
I realise that at 63 I’m not going to return to journalism, but my hope is that there can be a serious debate on the recruitment procedures of regional newspapers and how they exclude vast sections of the population.
Realistically, until legislation is brought in to force the newspapers to change these procedures and force them to employ people they don’t want to, nothing will change. And while the industry goes on about apprenticeship schemes for school leavers, it shows no willingness to see how experienced journalists who have been made redundant can be allowed to return to the profession.
I have been told that I have been out of the industry too long to be re-employed in it, but they miss the point that the very reason I am so long out of it is because of the industry’s requirements in the first place.