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TheJournal.ie takes aim at Maria Steen. And misses.

‘Fact Check’ at TheJournal.ie has ‘fact checked’ something Maria Steen of The Iona Institute said on Claire Byrne Live a fortnight ago about diversity in multi-denominational schools and found it to be ‘mostly false’. It is this statement that is actually false. Maria was very specific in what she said and everything she said stands up. Ironically, the Journal article itself confirms this.

Furthermore, the Journal moved the goal posts in order to arrive at its claim of ‘mostly false’. The Journal article brought in religious and ethnic diversity to assess Maria’s statement on RTE. But Maria never spoke about these aspects of diversity. She spoke about the prevalence of lone parents, Travellers, and children from lower socio-economic groups in Catholic vs multi-denominational schools.  She said Catholics schools as a percentage have more of all three of these categories than multi-denominational schools and this is absolutely true. Read the Journal article for yourself.

The article then goes on to rebut a claim Maria never made, namely about the extent, or otherwise, of religious and ethnic diversity in multi-denominational schools. Why ‘fact check’ something Maria never said unless you were trying to find fault where there was none?

Fortunately, the article didn’t even fool all of the Journal’s readers. Some could see straight through it.

Here is a comment left by a fellow calling himself ‘Tallyerand Fyre’:

“I have to say, this fact-check seems to have its own agenda. It is not nearly as neutral as it is pretending, and I say that as an atheist.

Maria Steen said Catholic schools have more diversity. Of course, diversity is a broad term and it can mean different things. But Steen herself qualified that she was talking about “social diversity.”

Of course, this is an effort to make the Catholic schools sound more enlightened. But given the criteria she herself set, it seems that the evidence largely bears out what she said.

But some of the tactics used to discredit her claim seem questionable.

Firstly, the report she relies upon is criticized for being ten years old. Granted, but it is also the most recent ERSI report complied with this level of data. It isn’t a wildly inappropriate document to be relying on to make claims in 2017.

Then the article investigates whether there is more religious diversity in Catholic schools, even though that is not a claim that Steen made.

Then the author reached out to Educate Ireland, who were active participants in the debate, to get further information. But surely the researcher should be doing the research themselves, rather than relying on one side to provide information? Because of course they will provide information that validates their argument. To me, this doesn’t look like the approach of someone who was trying to neutrally and objectively analyse a particular claim.

I am no friend of the Iona Institution, and they say plenty of off the wall stuff, but articles like this can’t be called objective journalism.”

The Journal came to Maria looking for a statement ahead of writing their piece. Seeing as they didn’t quote a line from it, we reproduce it in full below:

Reply to Journal.ie

In response to your query for a FactCheck article, I refer you to what I said on Claire Byrne Live:

“According to an ESRI report that was done in conjunction with Educate Together schools, there is much more likely (sic) to be much greater diversity among Catholic schools than among Minority Faith or Multi-denominational schools: Catholic schools have much greater numbers of children, for instance, from lone parent families, they have greater numbers of children from lower socio-economic groups. Multi-denominational schools tend, typically, to be middle-class.”

Later I stated:

“Most multi-denominational schools did not have any Traveller pupils. Catholic schools were more likely to have greater numbers of Traveller pupils compared to minority faith schools.”

These comments were based on the 2012 study conducted by the ESRI and Educate together and still published on their websites. The URL for the ESRI website is here: http://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT221.pdf [1]

To answer your question, my claim as to the diversity of Catholic schools related to the social and economic characteristics that I mentioned, which are outlined in the ESRI/Educate Together study, specifically children from lone-parent families, from lower socio-economic groups and the Travelling Community. I was referring to primary schools as that is what the debate was about.

Please also confirm whether it is your intention to “FactCheck” the assertions made by Paul Rowe of Educate Together to the effect that my comments based on the Educate Together study were untrue.

For your assistance, I attach a response to Educate Together’s recent press release in this regard.




Response of Maria Steen to press release by Educate Together

On Monday 20 February 2017 I appeared as a panelist on Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ1 television. Paul Rowe, CEO of Educate Together (“ET”), was an audience member and took issue with several things I said.

On Tuesday 21 February 2017 ET issued a press release [2] to “fact check” my comments. While the condescending tone of the document is disappointing, it is more disappointing still that it is itself full of factual inaccuracies.

My contribution relied on research conducted by the ESRI, in conjunction with ET itself. The study was first published in October 2012, using data from 2007/08. Although Mr Rowe in his on-air criticisms directed towards me, and ET in its press release, now seek to undermine their own study’s conclusions, it remains the most up-to-date resource available on the social, economic and educational characteristics of students enrolled in the three main types of primary schools and continues to be published on the websites of both ET [3] and the ESRI [4]. Further, in its press release ET asserts that “roughly half of children attending ET schools identify as Catholic”, a statistic derived from the same 2012 study and which featured in ET’s press release at the time of the study’s publication.

If the picture has changed substantially since 2008, then ET should update the ERSI study in full for public consumption.

To deal with ET’s accusations:

[1] ET states that I said its schools were middle-class schools. I said multi-denominational schools “tend, typically, to be middle class”. I added that according to the ERSI/ET study, there is “much greater diversity among Catholic schools than among Minority Faith or Multi-denominational schools. Catholic schools have much greater numbers of children, for instance, from lone parent families, they have greater numbers of children from lower socio-economic groups. Multi-denominational schools tend, typically, to be middle-class.”

Note that I did not say that Catholic schools are more diverse in all respects. Note also, that in my remarks I did not criticise ET directly. Rather I sought to emphasise the diversity that exists in Catholic schools across the country.

My statement that multi-denominational schools “tend, typically, to be middle-class” is very much borne out by the finding of the ET/ESRI study that as at 2007/08, children of families from the top income quintile accounted for 49% of all children in their schools compared with 19% in Catholic schools. If this picture has changed drastically since then, ET are free to publish the evidence in full.

Here is what the ET/ESRI study says:

“…both minority faith and multi-denominational schools had higher proportions of children from professional, managerial and technical backgrounds than Catholic schools (69%, 65% and 46% respectively), in keeping with international research on school choice. Multi-denominational and minority faith schools also had higher proportions of children from families in the top income quintile (fifth) than Catholic schools (49%, 33% and 19% respectively).” (p. 35)

“The analysis also revealed that the proportion of children from lone parent families attending Catholic schools (18%) was higher than for minority faith (9%) or multi- denominational schools (15%). These figures demonstrate that compared to Catholic schools, multi-denominational and minority faith schools are more likely to have pupils from middle-class backgrounds.” (p. 35)

[2] ET states that I said its schools do not serve members of the Travelling Community. I said no such thing. Using the following word-for-word quote from their study (p. 41) I said: “Most multi-denominational schools [emphasis added] did not have any Traveller pupils. Catholic schools were more likely to have greater numbers of Traveller pupils compared to minority faith schools.” These are the facts, as found by ET’s own study.

[3] ET states that I said that Catholic schools are the most diverse in Ireland. This is not actually contradicted in the ET press release. However, they attempt to downplay its significance by pointing out that Catholic schools are “funded by the taxpayers – many of whom are not Catholic, may not want denominational education and are forced to fund a system with which they may disagree”. What ET fails to mention is that, according to the 2011 census[1] [5], of the working population, some 1.49 million are Catholic, compared to approximately 136,000 professing no religion. Assuming most of these are taxpayers, it would seem that there are far more Catholics subsidizing multi-denominational schools than there are people of no faith subsidizing Catholic schools. I support the ongoing development of multi-denominational schools and the right of parents to educate their children in a secular ethos, if that is their wish. However, in the interests of fairness and pluralism, I think that it is not unreasonable to expect the same courtesy to be extended to those parents who wish to send their children to faith-based schools.

I am also accused of quoting “selectively” from the ET/ESRI study. As ought to be apparent to any rational person, it is not possible, in a short television appearance, to quote otherwise than selectively from a 55-page report. Tellingly, the ET press release does not identify any part of the study contradicting the points that I made.

I would welcome the opportunity publicly to debate this issue with Paul Rowe one-on-one with a fair and impartial interviewer.



PS. Since the publication of this post The Journal.ie have changed their verdict from MOSTLY FALSE to HALF TRUE.  (15/3/2017)





[1] [6] The new figures for the 2016 census have not yet been released and are due for publication on 12 October 2017.