Parents and students should have a choice on whether or not to wear face masks in schools, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín has said.
He said it is “incredible” that adults can go to pubs without a face-covering but children who are at low risk from Covid-19 must wear masks in schools.
His remarks come as the requirement for schoolchildren to wear masks could be ended as early as next week if the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) approves the move when it meets on Thursday.
The Government and its public health advisers have indicated that the remaining Covid restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks in schools, would be reviewed before the end of February.
It comes as the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has been notified of 4,160 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19.
In addition, 4,655 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal on Monday. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he would like to see people continue to wear masks in retail settings and on public transport in the immediate future.
Government sources said on Monday night, however, that Ministers were likely to move quickly on any Nphet recommendation to end the requirement for children to wear masks in school.
Older children have been wearing masks in class since September 2020, while the requirement for primary schoolchildren aged over nine was introduced last December.
Meath West TD Mr Tóibín said Covid-19 has been "massively disruptive to the education our children have received".
“It is time to return our schools to normal, and that means allowing parents and children decide whether or not to use masks in classrooms.
“It is incredible that an adult, who is in far greater risk of an adverse reaction to Covid than a child, can walk into a pub full of strangers and freely move around and yet a 10-year-old child, with a very low risk to Covid, who is in a bubble with the same children every day is being told to wear a mask by the Government.”
Other Opposition TDs were more cautious about the prospect of the requirement for schoolchildren to wear masks being dropped.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said ongoing absences among teachers and students due to Covid are "concerning" and he highlighted increased rates of the virus among unvaccinated younger children.
“Let’s see the advice that comes to the public health experts - but I would be very cautious about... recommending that people don’t wear masks, for example, in schools at a time when Covid is still definitely spreading in our schools, spreading to students, spreading to teachers and therefore impacting, potentially interfering with people’s education,” he said.
Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that while there’s a sense in wider society that Covid is almost over, schools are “very much dominated by Covid”.
He said: "If public health advises this week, that masks are no longer necessary at primary or second level well then obviously the Labour Party will support that."
But he also said the Government must recognise the ongoing impact of Covid on schools.
“Students are still out, teachers are still out, schools are still struggling and just because the rest of society has moved on and the hospitality sector have moved on and maybe even politics has moved on, schools are still very much struggling under the influence of Covid.
“So while the masks may go, the education experience and the interruption of learning and the teachers being out is still a massive issue at primary and second level.”