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Parents to protest primary school mask mandate at Merrion Square tomorrow 

Concerned parents are set to protest the government’s newly-introduced mask mandate in Irish primary schools at Merrion Square tomorrow, Friday 3rd December, at 12pm.

It had been announced that the demonstration would take place at the Dáil, but due to ‘unprecedented demand,’ the location has now been changed to Merrion Square in Dublin. It will now take place outside the back of Leinster House in a bid to accommodate the larger numbers and particularly for the safety of children, organisers said.

On Tuesday, the wearing of masks was made compulsory for children aged nine and over in schools. In a move which has been received with widespread upset and anger, the Department of Education declared that from Wednesday morning, the primary school pupils and staff should be refused entry to their school without a mask unless they have a medical cert proving they can be exempted.

Now, disenchanted parents have called for a school walk-out in protest against the move.

A promotional poster with the heading, ‘School Strike!’ calls on parents to ‘unite in a mass gathering’ to say ‘no mask mandates’ for their children.

“I thought it was just an absolute violation of parental rights. I feel like everything now has just been so politicised, right down to what you can and can’t do with your own family,” mum Áine said. “All of a sudden now, it’s the kids, and that’s where the red line is drawn for me.

“You’ve the right to choose for your child to wear a mask, but your rights don’t trump mine as a parent,” she added.

Another mother, Deirdre, told us:

“I was a bit shocked because all along there’s been several reports from HIQA saying that they didn’t want children [and] it wasn’t necessary for children to wear masks. And then suddenly, there’s this turnaround from NPHET and the government.

“Where’s the science? Where’s the evidence for this? I just don’t see it. The evidence is there that no children under 12 in Ireland have died from Covid. For the majority, certainly any parents I’ve met at the school, their children just have very very mild symptoms.” 

Deirdre said she thought the mask mandate was cruel. “I just can’t imagine my child sitting in school all day, never seeing a smile from one of the friends.”

Áine added: “I don’t think it’s about health anymore.” She said the new rule was threatening parents, families and children, and said there was no consideration for the mental health impact the mandate would have on young children.

“I had my daughter crying the other day saying ‘I absolutely hate Covid’ and most parents just want a normal childhood (for their children). I had a normal childhood. They’ve crossed a red line now,” she said.

“How is this still about health?” she asked. “Because if masks were working all along, why are we still in the situation, why are we back in the situation, where they’re talking about lockdowns, more restrictions, and now, also today, the rollout of vaccines for five- to 11-year-olds? It’s not about health, because if it was about health, they would consider the mental health and wellbeing of young children, particularly young children who are hearing impaired.”

Áine’s son Rory is hearing impaired. She is in a group with other parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and she says many of these young children were going out ‘terrified’ to school yesterday morning, afraid they would not be able to hear their friends speaking to them under the masks. They wouldn’t be able to lipread either, an essential tool for someone who is hearing impaired. “It’s just gone beyond a joke now,” Áine said.

Organisers of Friday’s event address the health minister in their promotional  poster, promising they will not comply with what they dub an ‘inhumane’ mask mandate. They say that the protest will be an example of democracy in action, “calling on parents and children across Ireland to unite in a mass gathering at Dáil Éireann.”

“Minister Donnelly, we will not comply with your inhumane mask mandate for primary school children! Let’s lead by example and show our children what democracy looks like!” they insisted. Organisers add that the school strike will hear from “inspirational speakers, teachers, therapists, special needs parents and more.” The strike is supported by campaign group ‘Enough is Enough’ who say they are campaigning for “truth and civil rights, freedom and bodily autonomy” in response to such mandates.

The mandating of masks for children has been met with a sense of confusion and shock from many, with the government ignoring a multitude of warnings from the National Parents Council Primary and the Children’s Rights Alliance. Both groups predicted that a lot of families would stand in concrete opposition to masking of children. The National Parents Council Primary recently cautioned that the mandate would cause “a lot of families” to pull their children from school. The group said they had received contact from over 700 parents just hours after NPHET’s recommendations, which have now been enforced by the government, were reported

Prior to the rule being enforced, the Children’s Rights Alliance warned that parents were worried face masks could cause problems for children, particularly those with additional needs. The group said that some children, including those with autism and learning difficulties, would find it “difficult or indeed impossible to wear a mask in school.”

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