Children turned away from schools ‘last thing anyone wants’, says McEntee

Minister for Justice defends introduction of masks for pupils in third class and above

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee: ‘We’re doing this to protect them and to protect the wider community.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee: ‘We’re doing this to protect them and to protect the wider community.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The “last thing anyone wants” is children being turned away from schools for not wearing facemasks, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

However, Ms McEntee defended the introduction of masks for children in third class and above, which came into force today, saying it was required because of high rates of Covid infection among younger children.

“We do know there’s been a significant increase in Covid cases among nine-year-olds and up. We’re doing this to protect them and to protect the wider community.”

Guidelines sent to schools on Tuesday evening by the Department of Education outlined how unmasked pupils who cannot provide evidence of an exemption will be “refused entry to the school”.

“The last thing anyone wants is children being turned away from school. This is a very difficult situation I think we find ourselves in full stop, it’s hard for parents, adults, all of us to wear masks so to be asking a child to wear a mask,” Ms McEntee said, adding that there would be a period of flexibility until the end of this week to help people get acclimatised.

“As of next week we do ask and we are going to be asking that children will wear masks,” she said. The justice minister was speaking at an event to mark international missing persons day in Croke Park, Dublin.

Hospital situation

Having spoken to young children who were already wearing masks, Ms McEntee said she believed “a lot of people will pull together and comply with these regulations”.

She defended a decision to enforce a requirement for a clear Covid test on all those coming into the country, saying that it was part of a layered approach that could also see the re-introduction of Mandatory Hotel Quarantine, which is being put back on a legislative footing this week.

“We know it worked in the past, we know it worked at identifying cases where they hadn’t been before, and that’s simply what we’re trying to do here – put as many layers in the system to protect people as possible, while keeping our country open.”

Asked about the prospect of sanctions being reintroduced, she said she did not anticipate a lockdown “as many people are fearful of”. The situation in hospitals was improving, she said.

While the impact of the new Omicron variant was still unknown, “we want to keep our society open, we want businesses to stay open but we want people to be safe. So it’s how we do that, how do we keep things going while keeping people safe at the same time”.