When a news outlet omits key pieces of information from its report, it may reasonably be accused of spin, at best, or mischief, at worst. In my opinion, a report carried all day today on TV, radio and internet by RTE falls into this category.

The report begins with: “Eight of Ireland’s most affluent schools received an average of almost €50,000 in additional funding each from the State in 2012.

“The funding was a result of a tax refund scheme that favours schools that get large voluntary contributions from parents.
“Data given to RTÉ News by the Revenue Commissioners shows that the State distributed an additional €1.4 million among 140 schools under the scheme.”
The first essential fact that RTE omits is that there is no such thing as an “affluent school”. Affluence refers to wealth. I don’t know any school that would describe itself as wealthy. However, the wealth of families who enrol children in schools varies, naturally. So the percentage of affluent parents supporting a school varies – but that doesn’t make the school affluent. Most schools have a mix of pupils from varied backgrounds.
The second essential fact which is omitted is that there is no special scheme for refunding tax to schools. There is a widely used scheme which allows all charities (including schools) to apply a provision of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. Currently, the list of charities registered for the scheme runs to several pages on the Revenue website. The list includes an A to Z of charity in Ireland, including the
Order Of Malta – Malta Charities St. John’s House 32 Clyde Road Dublin 4
and the Zoological Society Of Ireland, Dublin Zoo Phoenix Park Dublin 8.
The third essential and omitted fact is that the government is not giving extra funding to some schools: the scheme allows a charity to reclaim some of the income tax which donors paid to Revenue – because the donor has not spent this income on themselves but donated it to a charity. Hence, in the example of a school, it is not public funds which the school gets refunded but money which rightly belongs to the donor.
As for the scale of the refunds: to put in in context, the same news bulletin which headlines this report also notes that Garth Brooks has agreed to put on a fourth Irish concert this year. The tickets cost €60. Each concert will hold about 80,000 concert-goers. So the concerts’ total take from the Irish economy is €19,200,000. How many “affluent people” are buying these tickets? The cost of four tickets, if donated to a charity would help the charity to take part in the scheme which RTE denounces. Yet, RTE and most Irish media have hyped these concerts to a point where the promoters didn’t have to pay for advertising – even on the national, tax-funded media. All they have to do is entice the journalists and media outlets with privileged access and free tickets. In return they get saturation coverage – at no cost.
Just imagine what an extra €19.2m added to our education budget would do to enhance equality of opportunity and a good education for all children. The amount of income tax from parents given to the schools is €1.4m.
RTE royals against the schools who raise extra funds from charitable donations to compensate for cutbacks in State funding. That €1.4m will make a lasting difference to our young people. I like music; Garth Brooks is a great entertainer. But whether we are wise in giving him €19.2m for a weekend’s work in July surely merits more exploration that the “tax back” story.