27 Sept 2022

'Not 100% comfortable with it' - Taoiseach says on children wearing masks

Taoiseach says new rules around children wearing masks are 'challenging'

Taoiseach says new rules around children wearing masks is something he's "not 100% comfortable with".

Micheál Martin has said the new rules surrounding primary school children wearing masks are “challenging” but there has to be “common sense, discretion and practical approach” applied to the requirements.

The Taoiseach's comments come after the Government asked schools on Tuesday evening, to ensure that children in third class and above wear masks in primary schools and on school transport, however, children who can provide a medical certificate are exempt.

Children over the age of nine are also required to wear face masks in retail and other indoor settings in the new guidelines.

Mr Martin was challenged by Labour leader Alan Kelly in the Dáil today over the legal enforcement of the new regulations, to which the Taoiseach said:

“It is challenging, deputy. I appreciate that. It’s not a place I am entirely 100% comfortable with, as a person, as a parent, and as a former teacher myself.

“I’m very much alive to different situations in different schools. We have to be sensitive to all of that.”

Mr Kelly said the communication surrounding the enforcement was "nothing short of diabloical" and stated that while he agreed with public health measures, 16 hours was not enough notice to give to school principals. 

“Surely there should have been a communications process whereby principals are engaged, unions are engaged with, and also children are engaged.

“There’s a huge difference from a development point of view between a nine-year-old and a 15-year-old.

“This can’t just happen overnight, and that’s what’s been asked", Mr Kelly added.

Replying to Mr Kelly, An Taoiseach said that school management will know their community and how to engage with their community.

“Obviously, in terms of special needs children there won’t be a requirement if it is not suitable.

“I think there has to be common sense, discretion, practical approach to this.

“I think in the main there will be. Overall, we have to look at this as a collective society". Mr Martin added.

Mr Kelly also asked whether school principals and boards of management will be legally protected when enforcing the wearing of face masks.

He said that children have a constitutional right to education and queried what legal protection schools would have to refuse children entry if they are not wearing masks.

“What is the legal basis for it and have you guaranteed that principals are legally protected here?” Mr Kelly asked.

“If they refuse entry of a kid into school, are they legally protected by this state? Because I know that the PDF that went out had no signature on it and wasn’t on headed paper.”

Mr Martin replied:

“In the middle of a global pandemic, where school principals and management are applying public health policy, they will be protected.”

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