Public Interest News List Journalists: 9: Sam McBride, Belfast News Letter
As political editor, Sam’s journalism has consistently held the powerful — regardless of party or position — to account, something which is more profoundly important in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK because Stormont operates without any official opposition to scrutinise the Executive.
Trawling through tens of thousands of pages of written evidence given to the RHI Inquiry [Renewable Heating] and working with sources to put it in context, he revealed how Northern Ireland’s biggest company — vast poultry processor Moy Park — knew it was a massive indirect beneficiary of the RHI ‘cash for ash’ scheme, despite having told the public that it derived no financial gain from its farmers installing the taxpayer-subsidised biomass boilers.
He calculated that one benefit identified by the Brazilian-owned company could have been worth more than £100 million.
He has revealed how the senior civil servant in charge of efforts to make Stormont less secretive was herself responsible for a process which wrongly suppressed the release of potentially embarrassing material.
He has informed readers how a record seven super-injunctions are in force in Northern Ireland, but the courts will not even release the date on which each ultra-secretive order was made.
Searching through thousands of pages of declassified government files, he has exposed how the Northern Ireland Office deceived the public over its central role in a poll which it claimed was independent and which it attempted to use to manipulate attitudes to parading.
He has exposed how during the pandemic police officers were making up non-existent law and using it to intimidate the public on pain of criminal sanction, even when that led to distress for autistic children.
He has revealed how a complex bill tabled by the First Minister and deputy First Minister — the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill — and rammed through the Assembly with minimal scrutiny was founded on a huge legal misunderstanding.
Sam’s journalism, particularly in writing more about the cash for ash scandal than any other journalist over the last four years, has contributed to a sustained growth in paying subscribers to the News Letter website.
It has also contributed to more individuals — whether ordinary people or senior Stormont figures — trusting the News Letter to fairly and accurately report their public interest stories.
Sam’s work on cash for ash was central to the setting up of a public inquiry into the scandal which toppled devolution.
His revelations about the Executive Committee (Functions) Bill led to the biggest parliamentary rebellion in the 50-year history of the DUP in July 2020.
In June 2020 he was invited by Stormont’s Finance Committee to give evidence about how devolved government can be reformed to make those in power more accountable.
The police withdrew their erroneous claims about the coronavirus restrictions after Sam’s (and BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan’s) revelations about what they were doing