1709/2023 - A Person and www.irishmirror.ie

By admin
Tuesday, 27th February 2024
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The Press Council of Ireland overturned a decision of the Press Ombudsman to uphold a complaint by a person that www.irishmirror.ie  breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice.

Press Ombudsman’s Decision

On 28 November 2023 the Press Ombudsman upheld a person’s complaint that www.irishmirror.ie breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice.  She has not upheld the person’s complaint that it breached Principles 2, 4, 5 and 8 of the Code. The overall complaint is therefore partially upheld.

The complaint is about an article published by www.irishmirror.ie in September 2023, under the headline “Pupils in Dublin primary school told to refer to their gender-neutral teacher as “they” in the classroom.”  The piece states that children aged 8 and 9 in a school have been asked to use a teacher’s first name only or else the pronoun “they”, and that “it is believed to be the first time a school in Ireland has moved to accommodate a teacher’s gender identity within the classroom.”  It notes that the normal practice in the school is for children to use first names for their teachers. It states that children have been corrected for calling the teacher in question “she”.

The complainant stated that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice.    

On Principle 1 the complainant said there was “no story” on which to base the article, that it was “deeply misleading” and had been “deliberately distorted to invent a controversy.”  They said the publication incorrectly described the profession of one of those interviewed and the nature of her campaigning.

On Principle 2 the complainant said the article described the “controversial issue of gender identity” but did not say that the campaigner belongs to an organisation which is controversial.  They said the campaigner is presented as an expert while her opinions and conjectures were presented as if they were fact.

On Principle 4 the complainant said the publication admitted it did not know why the teacher used they/them pronouns, or if the teacher was non-binary or gender fluid. They said the publication had not taken reasonable care in checking facts.

On Principle 5 the complainant said public persons were entitled to privacy and there was no justification for publishing details about their request in relation to the use of pronouns.

On Principle 8 the complainant said the article was not balanced as no non-binary or gender-fluid people had been interviewed, and the “sole reason” the article was published was “to whip up hatred against a marginalised identity”.

The publication said it was for editors to decide what constituted news, and that the complainant had not made clear what they considered to be misleading.  It said the reference to the issue of gender identity as controversial was a general statement of opinion, supported by the fact that the topic was frequently the subject of “vigorous debate”.

It accepted it had misnamed the profession for the quoted campaigner and noted that it had corrected this “detail”.  The publication said it did not accept the complainant’s categorisation of the campaigner, and that it was up to the complainant to establish the veracity of their assertion. The publication said it had not presented the campaigner as an expert, and that her views were clearly attributed to her rather than being presented as facts.

The publication said that the absence of some particulars from a report did not indicate a lack of care in fact checking. It said the report was about the teacher’s wish to be referred to using certain pronouns, not about how they designated their gender.  It said no disrespect was shown to the rights   of the teacher.

The publication said the complainant had “no standing” to complain about the teacher’s privacy rights, but that in any case the teacher had not been identified.

The publication said there was no foundation for the claim of prejudice.  It said it made no assumptions about the gender identities of those spoken to in the article and had not felt it necessary to seek comment from people who were specifically non-binary or gender-fluid.


Principle 1:  The Code of Practice acknowledges that a newspaper is entitled to publish what it considers to be news.  However, the Press Ombudsman finds that the complainant is justified in asserting that this story is “distorted to invent a controversy”. 

The article states there have been no official complaints from parents and that the school’s governing body and the union representing teachers expressed no concerns, while the Department of Education stated that it is committed to “inclusive environments”.  

A strikingly different note is introduced by the “psychologist [corrected to psychotherapist] and campaigner” whose opinion is sought.  She is, as the publication acknowledges, well known, as are her views on transgender identity issues. She states as a matter of fact that the request to the children “is in breach of” the HSE’s Children First Guidelines which state that “adults’ needs should not be placed before children’s needs”. She says that some children may feel uncomfortable, or that they are being asked to lie, that it may conflict with their religious beliefs, and that it could cause confusion, distress and anxiety among children with additional needs.

The Press Ombudsman notes that the perspective of a person who has made, or chosen not to make, a similar choice in relation to seeking recognition in the workplace for their gender identity is missing from the piece, though the publication does offer an element of balance by quoting a politician who is raising his child as gender-neutral and who says the move by the school is “positive” and that children will “take it in their stride”.  

However, it is a serious matter for a teacher and a school to stand accused of putting adult needs above those of children to the potential detriment of children, including particularly vulnerable children. The guidelines cited are an instrument to protect children from harm and abuse, with a statutory requirement to report any suspected breach to the authorities for investigation.  Yet the article does not include the highly relevant views of the HSE, or of anyone with appropriate professional expertise.  Nor does it indicate that it has sought them.  In the context of a news report, this is a significant distortion and falls short of the requirement to strive for truth and accuracy. The Press Ombudsman finds that Principle 1 has been breached.

Principle 2: The Press Ombudsman finds that the newspaper clearly presents the campaigner’s views as her own, and not as fact. There is no breach of Principle 2.

Principle 4: The Press Ombudsman accepts the newspaper’s statement that the story is based on the issue of the use of they/them pronouns and the question of the teacher’s specific gender identification beyond this is not relevant.  She finds no evidence of a breach of Principle 4.

Principle 5: The Press Ombudsman finds that the newspaper is correct in stating that the complainant has no standing to complain of the breach of the unidentified teacher’s privacy.  There is no breach of Principle 5.

Principle 8:  The complainant states that the “sole reason” for publication was to “whip up hatred” against “a marginalised gender identity”.  The Press Ombudsman agrees with the complainant that an imbalance is created in the article by the absence of the voice of a person identifying as non-binary or gender-fluid – they could have given valuable insights.  However, the Press Ombudsman does not find evidence that the article is intended or likely to stir up hatred.  There is no breach of Principle 8.

View the Decision of the Press Council of Ireland