Taoiseach is "not entirely comfortable" with children wearing masks in school
"We have to look at this as a collective society.”
Taoiseach Michael Martin has said he is "not 100% comfortable" with the new Government rules on mask-wearing in schools.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet decided that children from third class and above should wear masks in schools and asked schools and parents to co-operate.
Children over the age of nine are also now required to wear face coverings in retail settings and other similar indoor settings.
The Taoiseach has said the new requirements are “challenging” but a “common sense, discretion and practical approach” should be applied. For example, children who can provide a medical certificate are exempt.
When challenged on the new advice by Deputy Alan Kelly, he 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 pointed out a child's constitutional right to education and asked the Taoiseach if a pupil would be refused from a school if they did not wear a mask - and if such children were protected by the State.
Mr. Martin replied: "In the middle of a global pandemic, where school principals and management are applying public health policy, they will be protected.”
Mr. Kelly went to criticise how the Government's new policies were communicated.
"Surely there should have been a communications process whereby principals are engaged, unions are engaged with, and also children are engaged," he told the Taoiseach.
“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.
"I understand the Minister has now clarified that there are a couple of days grace, but ultimately this is mandatory and that is fine, but the communications process around it is frankly diabolical.
“Principals are left this morning at school gates wondering what they’re meant to do.”
Mr. Martin said that school management will know what to do as they know their own community and know how to engage with people.
“Obviously, in terms of special needs children there won’t be a requirement if it is not suitable," he said. "I think there has to be common sense, discretion, practical approach to this.
“Overall, we have to look at this as a collective society.”
Meanwhile, many parents are concerned that schools will stay closed after the Christmas holidays in January.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said ensuring schools remain open is a "singular priority".
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