Terrible scenes at school gates around the country as pupils are refused entry because they are not wearing their Covid masks.
Harassed principal: “Johnny, I told your Mammy yesterday. You can’t come in here without a mask. Now who is this? Your auntie? That won’t help you.”
A smiling woman in a pin-striped business suit steps forward.
“Allow me to introduce myself.”
She extends a hand, purely for show.
“Morag McMoragally, senior counsel. I will be taking this fine young gentleman to school for the foreseeable future. Now, stand aside or I’ll sue the ass off you, your board of management and His Eminence the Archbishop.”
The startled principal moves sideways. “But, but Dr Tony says . . .”
“And him too,” shouts back Morag from the top of the queue for the cloakroom.
The principal rallies. “I’m ringing the ASTI. I’m ringing Norma Foley. I’m ringing the Attorney General.”
“And them too, plus expenses,” booms senior counsel MacMoragally, celebrated doyenne of the burgeoning schoolyard circuit.
We are making this up, your honour. But could it really happen?
Lionel Hutz and a lollipop lady outside every school gate?
But Alan “AK-47” Kelly is not sure. The Labour party leader is very concerned about the legal implications for school principals who bar children from attending lessons on foot of electronic notices from the Department of Education and the chief medical officer – both letters without any official heading and unsigned.
“If somebody rocks up the High Court and challenges this, will you defend the principal who will be the person taken to court?” he asked the Taoiseach on Wednesday. “This is a critical question.”
A mandatory requirement for children over the age of nine to wear a mask at school will be viewed by some parents (whether it bothers the kids or not) as a diktat too far. Alan sees writs on the horizon.
The way the decision was communicated to school principals on Tuesday night was “nothing short of diabolical”, he fumed, adding that while the Government took five days to decide on the new mask rules, it gave schools just 16 hours to implement the change. Not only that, but the message landed at six in the evening after the schools had closed.
“What way is that to communicate with the principals of Ireland?”
While wholly agreeing the measure is the right and necessary thing to do on public health grounds, Kelly was flabbergasted by the way it was landed on teachers. “Franky, diabolical,” he spluttered again, voice growing more falsetto as his rising indignation wandered into the legal realm.
Children have a legal and constitutional right to an education, he pointed out. Has the law been changed to allow otherwise?
He pressed the Taoiseach to give some comfort to the principals who are “genuinely concerned” about being taken to court. Will they be legally protected by the State?
Micheál Martin explained at length why the measure is necessary and how we have to take a common-sense, practical, community-based approach to dealing with the pandemic. But while the vaccination figures are good (a chance here for the Taoiseach to reel off them off again), we must remain vigilant and do everything possible to keep infection down.
He accepted not everyone is keen on children wearing masks. “It’s not something I am entirely 100 per cent comfortable with as a person, a parent and as a former teacher.”
But he sidestepped the question about legal responsibility.
“Not being comfortable is one thing; not being legal is another,” replied Kelly, still looking for his answer.
“Principals and teachers administrating public health policy in the middle of a global pandemic will be protected,” declared Micheál.
How? On what legal basis?
Er . . .
Well, wearing masks will help reduce overall transmission and this will protect the education system. That’s what Dr Tony says. And “developmentally, children being in schools trumps everything” and that is the context – to keep them in school.
Rapid fire mode
But what about that legal framework, persisted AK-47, in rapid fire mode.
“The legal framework is obviously that, from a public health perspective, our fundamental obligation is to protect the public from this virus,” the Taoiseach gamely ventured.
“But are the principals protected?” harried Alan, still holding out.
Micheál bristled. He wasn’t going to begin speculating on what might happen “should people take challenges and so on”.
Resisting the urge to crow, the Labour leader rested his case. “You can’t answer the question because there isn’t an answer.”
No taoiseach will ever admit to such a thing. “Well, I disagree with that.” But he couldn’t say why. So, instead, he informed Kelly: “You’re not a constitutional lawyer!”
“No, but I can still get advice,” Kelly countered. “And I can get advice before issuing a circular.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday was a very special day for the Shinners. A wondrous day which they never could have imagined in their wildest dreams. A day which will surely merit at least one ballad from The Wolfe Tones.
For yes, it was the day when the ghost of Pearse appeared in the Dáil chamber and ’twas witnessed by none other than the Taoiseach himself.
When Leaders’ Questions kicked off at midday, matters progressed in the usual fractious fashion between Micheál Martin and Pearse Doherty. Pearse was standing in for Mary Lou McDonald who is away in America and very definitely not fundraising for Sinn Féin in Ireland because little Sinn Féin in the USA needs constant, massive funding for some inexplicable reason.
As it turns out, this week was tailor-made for Donegal deputy Pearse, with the Government releasing details of its new mica redress scheme. Neither he nor his county colleague and party whip, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, are impressed by the detail.
Their main bone of contention is the late introduction of a “sliding scale” of compensation which will see the rate paid per square foot drop according to the increasing size of a property. As the Taoiseach told deputy Mac Lochlainn, “the larger the house, the bigger the economies of scale.”
He dismissed the Sinn Féin TDs’ objections as nothing more than “feigned outrage” and “feigned anger” all designed around the local mica campaign in a ploy to boost their party’s political objectives.
Micheál smiled knowingly. He had the measure of Doherty and his “very feigned attempt” to whip up emotion over the revised redress scheme.
“That’s what you’re at,” accused Micheál, leaning forward and facing Pearse, who was wearing a clean new black-and-white “100% mica redress” mask.
He lifted his hands, gesturing across the floor at the Sinn Féin man.
“I can see through you,” he suddenly cried. And the Taoiseach, staring across at the vision, raised his voice and repeated his words, with feeling.
“I can see through you, deputy,” he throbbed, Cork accent hitting the hit notes. “I can see through you!”
It was all over in a few mesmerising seconds.
The ghost of Pearse materialised and appeared in the Dáil, to Micheál.
Mary Lou will be raging she missed it.