ANOTHER DAMNING REVIEW OF EVIDENCE AROUND MASKING HEALTHY PEOPLE: HIQA Conclusion: 'National and international public health guidance on the use of face masks is based on low certainty direct evidence of clinical effectiveness, indirect evidence that supports plausibility of effectiveness… Further research is urgently required, particularly high quality studies that provide direct evidence on the use of face masks by healthy people in the community. The WHO has urged countries that have recommended the wearing of face masks by healthy people in community settings to ‘conduct research on this important topic’.

Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) Report: Evidence summary for face mask use by healthy people in the community 21 August 2020, page 25, pdf available here: https://www.hiqa.ie/sites/default/files/2020-08/Evidence-summary-face-masks-in-the-community.pdf

The above is yet another official review of the quality of evidence around masking healthy people in the community, yet public policy remains the same. The report states that there is no reference to a risk/benefit analysis of mask safety in any of the 19 studies which are widely referenced as proof for mask effectiveness..

Here are a few additional extracts from the above report which you might consider citing in correspondence with any of the below: Extracts from Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) Report: Evidence summary for face mask use by healthy people in the community 21 August 2020.

Seeking a Face Covering Exemption for Your Secondary Student

Face covering exemptions are clearly provided for both in the legislation and specifically within schools through Dept of Education guidance (read excerpts here: Excerpts from Roadmap for the Full Return to School). However, what we’re hearing from parents is that it has been left up to a negotiation between individual parents and schools to officially be granted an exemption for their children. As a result, a great deal of variation has been seen between approaches in schools and likewise the degree of ease with which parents have been able to send their children to school, free to breathe.

We have received a great deal of feedback from parents telling us what approaches for securing face covering exemptions have worked best for them. In this section, we have put their input together with information on what options and guidance is available in terms of this process. All information is provided for information purposes only to assist you and is not legal advice.

It should be noted that the Roadmap for the Full Return to School mentions that, 'Staff or students who cannot wear face coverings or visors for health reasons should be based in other classrooms or areas wherever possible.' We urge parents to confirm what the school's plan would be for facilitating your child when the exemption is granted and ensure it is one you are happy with. If not, further negotiations could take place or you could progress further through the below stages.

We believe that the relationship between families and schools is an essential one and therefore feel this first specified step-by-step process be attempted initially. If an impasse should be reached, please see next stages in how you may take your complaint further. Be sure to document all communication, follow up any phone conversations and in-person meetings with a written summary asking that they confirm what was discussed/ decided.

IMPORTANT: Please be sure to review Stage 6 no matter what steps you decide to follow or how easy or difficult you find the process to be. This stage outlines providing feedback to government departments, ministers and groups. This feedback can be invaluable to their understanding of the impacts of policy and mandates, particularly in the area of face covering exemptions. This stage is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, as it will serve to alert them to issues and provide them with valuable, real-life scenarios.

Resource: Excerpts from Roadmap for the Full Return to School

Stages for Seeking Face Covering Exemptions for Secondary School Students

Steps within your school

  1. Write to the principal stating that your child should be exempt in a firm but friendly manner (you may use or adapt the template letter here: Template Letter to Principal)
  2. Confirm receipt of the letter by phone or email
  3. Request an appointment to discuss
  4. Ring the principal at the agreed time and discuss what the situation will look like for your child. Be sure to document all communication, follow up any phone conversations and in-person meetings with a written summary asking that they confirm what was discussed/ decided. (In some cases, an agreement may be reached at this stage. Consider reviewing Stage 5 where you could provide feedback to relevant departments and groups on how easy or difficult you found the process to be.)
  5. If an agreement cannot be reached or if the school asserts that a letter from your GP is necessary, you may consider contacting your GP. Please note that our understanding is that these letters are not a legal requirement in seeking face covering exemptions and you may consider saying no. (In some cases, an agreement may be reached at this stage. Consider reviewing Stage 5 where you could provide feedback to relevant departments and groups on how easy or difficult you found the process to be.)
  6. If you decide not to pursue a doctor's letter, an impasse may be reached at this stage and you may consider jumping ahead to Stage 2.
  7. If you decide to pursue a doctor's letter, attend your GP with confidence that your child is entitled to an exemption. Ensure he/ she includes the wording that the child is exempt from wearing a ‘face covering’.
  8. Revert back to your school with the GP letter. Be sure to discuss privacy and applicable GDPR regulations which the school must abide by when handling private student information. Consider enclosing the doctor’s letter in an envelope marked ‘Private & Confidential’ and confirm with the principal that the specific contents will not be disclosed to staff and teachers.
  9. Hopefully, your child will be able to attend school free to breathe following these steps, but if not, you may consider moving to Stage 2.
  10. Consider reviewing Stage 6 where you could provide feedback to relevant departments and groups on how easy or difficult you found the process to be.

Resource: Template Letter to Principal

  1. Unresolved issues may then be referred to your school’s board of management chairperson for discussion. (Reference and further information for making a complaint: Making a Complaint to Schools)
  2. Request the chair’s contact details from your school, if unknown, and send a full account of steps completed as well as outcome. (ETB schools may contact the Education and Training Board here: https://www.etbi.ie/etb-directory.html)
  3. Your chairperson will discuss the issue with the board and they will come to a decision
  4. Possibly your complaint will terminate here and your child may be sent to school free to breathe. If not, you may consider moving to Stage 3.
  5. Consider reviewing Stage 6 where you could provide feedback to relevant departments and groups on how easy or difficult you found the process to be.

Escalate your complaint

Contact the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission

When: Contact any time for advice and assistance.

See Stage 3 for details.

File a Complaint with the Ombudsman for Children

When: First follow steps above within the school and escalate to the Ombudsman if necessary.

See Stage 4 for details.

File a Complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission

When: First follow steps above within the school and escalate to the Commission if necessary.

See Stage 5 for details.

We have received some promising reports from parents after contacting the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission. It is our understanding that they may offer advice as well as assistance in lodging complaints on the basis of discrimination under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018.

No matter what stage of the exemption process you're on, it's worth contacting them: Phone: 01 858 3000 or Lo call 1 890 245545, Email: YourRights@ihrec.ie, Address: Your Rights, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, 16-22 Green St, Dublin 7.

  1. It is essential that you exhaust all above steps before filing a complaint with the Ombudsman for Children, as their first criteria for a complaint is that you have done so. However, if a reasonable amount of time has passed where you have not received any reply or you feel the process is unduly delayed, some parents report that they have been allowed to file a complaint ahead of a decision.
  2. You may fill in the online form (instructions and link to form here: https://www.oco.ie/complaints/make-a-complaint) to make a complaint, print a copy at the same link or request a paper or pdf attachment to an email from their office by emailing: ococomplaint@oco.ie. Some suggested language for use in the complaint is available here: Ombudsman Complaint Template.
  3. It’s essential to note their requirements and be sure to be concise, thorough and include all emails and documents which have passed between you and your child’s school.
  4. When sending the complaint, consider sending it registered post, to ensure confirmation of its receipt. Also consider providing a copy of your complaint to government departments, ministers, associations and civil rights groups but ensure to black out private information. If you decide to do so, you may list these in the last question on the form, ‘Have you contacted any other service about your complaint…’. A list of suggested contacts is provided in Stage 5 but you may also want to include others.

Resource: Ombudsman Complaint Template

If you feel your child is being discriminated against on the basis of their disability, you may file a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission under the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018.

Review the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2000/act/8/enacted/en/print.html

Learn more about filing a complaint: https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/complaints_disputes/refer_a_dispute_make_a_complaint/

As noted above, please consider this step no matter what other stages you decide to follow or how easy or difficult you find the process to be. This stage outlines providing feedback to government departments, ministers and groups. This feedback can be invaluable to their understanding of the impacts of policy and mandates. This stage is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, as it will serve to alert them to issues and provide them with valuable, real-life scenarios of parents attempting to seek face covering exemptions for their children.

Your experience could help to create change and inform future decisions!

This stage could take the form of a simple letter outlining your experience. Try to be factual, detailed and constructive and provide any necessary attachments. Important Note: You may black out personal details of your child and individual school for privacy reasons. This will not lessen the impact of your letter but it is important for you to sign your name.

Be sure to be specific about what steps you took and their outcome, how much time each step took you and outline how this has affected any of the following:

  • your child’s life
  • any physical or psychological impacts
  • your child’s relationship with peers or school staff
  • your own life
  • your relationship with your child’s school
  • your relationship with your GP
  • your relationship with other parents
  • your other children’s lives and their relationships

This stage may also take the form of a copy of your complaint to the Ombudsman. As noted, be sure to black out any private information and you have the option of listing the groups you’re sending it to within the last question on the complaint form.

Communication may take the form of an email, letter or registered letter. Many parents have reported being ignored when communicating via email, so the latter options may prove more effective.

List of possible groups to contact:

Department of Education
email: childprotection@education.gov.ie, mailing address: Department of Education, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1. D01 RC96
https://www.education.ie/en/Contact-Us/ Also consider sending a Freedom of Information Request around what due diligence was carried out ahead of this mandate. Here is a template with possible wording: Freedom of Information Request Template.

Minister for Education - Norma Foley TD
email: Minister@education.gov.ie, mailing address: Minister's Office, Department of Education & Skills, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1. D01 RC96
https://www.education.ie/en/The-Department/Management-Organisation/Minister-s-Office.html

Department of Health
email: info@health.gov.ie, mailing address: Department of Health, Block 1, Miesian Plaza, 50 – 58 Lower Baggot Street, D02 XW14
https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation/department-of-health/

Minister for Health - Stephen Donnelly
email: stephen.donnelly@oireachtas.ie, mailing address: Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health, Vevay Road, Bray, Co. Wicklow, A98 T2H3
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/members/member/Stephen-Donnelly.D.2011-03-09/

Minister for Children - Roderic O'Gorman
email: roderic.ogorman@oireachtas.ie, mailing address: Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, D02 XR20
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/members/member/Roderic-O'Gorman.D.2020-02-08/

Taoiseach Micheál Martin
email: micheal.martin@oireachtas.ie, mailing address: Micheál Martin, 137 Evergreen Road, Turners Cross, Cork
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/members/member/Miche%C3%A1l-Martin.D.1989-06-29/

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar
email: leo.varadkar@oir.ie, mailing address: Leo Varadkar, Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment, Kildare St. Dublin 2
https://www.finegael.ie/our-people/ministers/dublin/dublin-west/leo-varadkar/

Irish Council for Civil Liberties
email:info@iccl.ie, mailing address: Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Unit 11, First Floor, 34, Usher's Quay, Dublin 8
https://www.iccl.ie/

Children’s Rights Alliance
email: info@childrensrights.ie, mailing address: Children's Rights Alliance, 7 Red Cow Lane, Smithfield, Dublin 7
https://www.childrensrights.ie/

National Parents Council Primary
email: info@npc.ie, mailing address: National Parents Council Primary, 12 Marlborough Court, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1
www.npc.ie

National Parents Council Post Primary
email: manager@npcpp.ie, mailing address: National Parents Council Post Primary, Unit 6 – Building 125, OMNI Shopping Centre, Santry, Dublin 9
www.npcpp.ie

Amnesty International
email: info@amnesty.ie, mailing address: Amnesty International Ireland, Seán MacBride House, 48 Fleet Street, Dublin 2
https://www.amnesty.ie/

Tusla (Irish Child Protection Agency)
email: info@tusla.ie, mailing address: Tusla – Child and Family Agency, The Brunel Building, Heuston South Quarter, Saint John's Road West, Dublin 8, D08 X01F
https://www.tusla.ie/

Data Protection Commissioner
email: (webform) https://forms.dataprotection.ie/contact, mailing address: Data Protection Commissioner, 21 Fitzwilliam Square South, Dublin 2, D02 RD28
https://www.dataprotection.ie/

Us - please consider sending Health Freedom Ireland your story!
email: info@healthfreedomireland.com

We hope this information and the shared experiences of many other parents in the same situation of seeking face covering exemptions prove helpful to you.

Please consider also sharing your story with us by emailing it to us: info@healthfreedomireland.com

We are unable to provide legal advice but if you’d like us to help you find an experienced solicitor in this area of law, please contact us: info@healthfreedomireland.com.

Best of luck with your exemption and we hope your child soon attends school free to breathe!

Your experience could help to create change and inform future decisions!

Important Note: Nothing presented constitutes legal advice, this is for information purposes only. If you need legal support please contact a solicitor to talk about your individual case.