C: Willie O'Dea via Twitter

Willie O’Dea TD: Mask mandates for school children must go

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea has called for the end of mask mandates in primary and second level schools across the country.

The former Minister for Defence, and Limerick City TD, last night tweeted that “I have urged the Taoiseach & the [Minister for Education] to lift the rule that mandates the wearing of masks by school children. In early Dec, Gov said it would be a temp measure and would be reviewed in Feb. With much milder Omicron variant, mask mandates for school children should now go.”

Last month, O’Dea, one of Fianna Fáil’s longest serving TDs, called for an end to all Covid restrictions including the contentious Covid vaccine pass – before such restrictive measures were scrapped in Ireland on the 22nd of January.

Taking to Twitter to push for the removal of mask mandates, O’Dea continued: “The children of this country have had a very tough 2 yrs & now with a huge proportion of school children recovered from covid or vaccinated, it is time to remove mask mandates at primary & 2nd level schools & allow teachers and pupils who wish to continue to wear masks to do so.”

Many on the Twitter thread welcomed O’Dea’s input, with some speculating that the TD could be predicting the Irish Government’s next move – as remaining restrictions in the North faced the axe on Monday, including the requirement to wear face coverings in public places.  

“Mask mandates for kids are as good as finished. Willie O’Dea knows exactly what the government are planning to do,” one user wrote.

“100% agree. Get rid of school masks immediately,” another user wrote. “Yes, som students are almost a third of the way through second level and have never had a normal class,” another comment read.

The enforcement of face coverings in schools has been met with significant outcry for months, with prominent figures such as the UK’s education chair speaking out on the masking of school pupils. Those in opposition to the masking of children cite various studies evidencing the crucial importance for children’s development to be able to observe and mirror facial expressions.

Last month, Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons education select committee, said he feared mask-wearing in schools could damage children’s mental health and wellbeing. In Ireland, 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.”

In its own communications, the HSE advised that ‘masks are not suitable for under-13s’. Despite a mask mandate coming into force for primary schools at the start of December, the information remained online.

The use of masks on children has caused a backlash from the beginning. In December, a protest took place at Merrion Square, with many frustrated parents and teachers present. “It’s not right,” parents told Gript. Signs pictured included at the protest included the message to the Government, ‘Pick on someone your own size!”

“It’s not right”: Irish parents protest masking of kids – YouTube:

School principals have also publicly expressed their opposition to both the masking requirement and the order to send young children home. In December, the Headmaster of Castle Park School wrote that he had “deep concerns about the safe and effective use of masks for young children.”

“They pose a negative impact on children’s social and emotional development and interfere with the actual process of teaching and learning,” he said. “In particular, they will have an adverse impact on children who have speech and language difficulties or for other reasons would find mask wearing a stressful occurrence.”

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, a legal challenge has been launched against the wearing of face masks in post-primary schools. John J. McNally and Co. Solicitors in County Derry announced last week that they had taken action against the NI children’s commissioner over the masking of children in schools.

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