Dáil hears that Taoiseach unsettled by face masks for children

Requirement for third class upwards to wear coverings leaves Martin not ‘100% comfortable’

Aleigha Babington-Byrne among third-class pupils from St Clare’s Primary School in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, wearing face masks in the classroom during lessons. Photograph: Bryan O Brien/The Irish Times

Aleigha Babington-Byrne among third-class pupils from St Clare’s Primary School in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, wearing face masks in the classroom during lessons. Photograph: Bryan O Brien/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said children from third class upwards being required to wear face masks is not a place he is “entirely 100 per cent comfortable . . . as a parent, as a former teacher myself”.

Mr Martin said there has to be “common sense, discretion and a practical approach” when implementing the measure announced on Tuesday evening and which came into effect on Wednesday morning. Pupils from third class upwards are now required to wear face masks in schools, with exemptions for children who can provide a medical certificate. Children aged nine and over are also required to wear masks on public transport and in retail and other indoor public settings under the new Government guidelines.

Responding to questions from Labour leader Alan Kelly in the Dáil on Wednesday regarding whether principals and boards of management would be legally protected implementing the wearing of face masks, Mr Martin said where they are applying public health policy they will be “protected definitely”.

Joint response

Mr Martin said there had to be a societal response because of the high incidence of Covid-19 in the community. He said the current situation was “challenging . . . I’m very much alive to the different situations that can apply in different schools and different localities, different backgrounds and so on and we have to be sensitive to that.”

Mr Kelly said there was “a plethora of confusion” in relation to children from third class now being required to wear face masks and that communications around it was “nothing short of diabolical”. He said it took the Government five days to make a decision on the matter but schools were give 16 hours. He said there should have been a communications process whereby children, principals and unions were engaged and there was a huge difference between a nine-year-old and a 15-year-old wearing a face mask.

“Principals were left at school gates this morning wondering what they’re meant to do and the same tomorrow,” he said.