Anti-mask protests in Ireland begin to grow violent

Emily Clarke

Walking through crowded streets and shopping centres in Dublin City centre, you can’t help but miss the friendly smile from a passing stranger when you look around and see most of people’s faces blocked by their face mask.

However, there is a warm friendliness and sense of community seeing others wearing a face covering to help protect themselves and others around them.

While many are complying with face covering regulations, others have come together to protest the mandatory wearing of face masks. A series of anti-mask protests have taken place across the country, in an effort to stop the government from legally mandating face coverings.

One of the most notable anti-lockdown protests was organised by the Yellow Vests Ireland, a far-right grassroot movement against the “disproportionate burden of the government’s tax and policies that are failing the citizens of Ireland,” according to their Facebook page.

The Yellow Vests have held a number of protests in the past, including one in which they claimed climate change was a hoax and protested against the fluoridation of water that they claim was spreading chemicals in the air. Another demonstration held earlier this year found the Yellow Vests calling for Gardasil to be banned, the vaccine given to young girls to help prevent the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

On the 12th of September, up to 2,000 protesters along with the Yellow Vests held a protest outside the Custom House Quay, Dublin. While chanting, the demonstrators claimed they want freedom and held a variety of signs and slogans including “take off your mask” and “wake up people” and also “it is only a common cold”.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Martin Feeley, clinical director of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, said Covid-19 is “much less severe” than the average annual flu. He claimed the current restrictions could not be justified and called them “draconian.”

Dr Feeley believes that people who are of a low risk should be exposed to the virus in order to encourage herd immunity. In response to his claims, Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer for the Health Service Executive Ireland (HSE) said that they do not hold the same views as Dr Feeley on this important subject.

“This is a novel coronavirus for which there is no cure or vaccination currently and against which our population have no immunity,” he said in a statement.

“The most effective way of protecting older people and vulnerable groups is not by expecting them to protect themselves, but by everybody adhering to the public health advice which that will limit transmission of the virus between individuals and households.”

On the same day as the above protest, another took place outside Leinster house, people then gathered on Kildare street to hear speakers denounce the pandemic restrictions. A small group of counter protesters attended, including veteran LGBT+ activist, Izzy Kamikaze.

Videos circulated online of Kamikaze with blood streaming from a head injury. She claimed on social media to have been struck with a piece of wood wrapped in a Tricolour. Kamikaze told The Irish Times she felt a “wall of protesters coming towards her. “I was looking around for a knife. I folded my arms to show I wasn’t a threat,” she said.

She claims she turned her head to check if her friend was okay and that was when she was hit, “I didn’t see who hit me. I turned slightly and then I was on the ground.”

Footage of the incident emerged on social media in which you can see masked protesters pushing some counter-protesters before Kamikaze fell to the ground and Gardai had to step in to try separate the two groups and move the counter-protesters away. No arrests were made at the demonstrations.

Currently, it is mandatory to wear a face mask when on public transport, in shops and other retail settings – including cinemas, salons and museums. While you are not obliged to wear a face mask in restaurants, it is recommended that you wear one when arriving to and leaving your table to protect the staff and other customers.

If you have a reasonable excuse to not wear your mask you must inform a member of staff in the setting you are in. These excuses include; having a physical or mental illness or disability, you need to communicate with someone who has difficulties communicating, removing your covering to assist someone or to provide emergency help, removing a mask to take medicine and removing your mask to avoid injury or harm.

Despite these exemptions, Roisin Fitzpatrick, a DCU student and anti-masker believes that people should be given a choice when it comes to wearing a face covering and their own personal health.

“The deaf community and my deaf friends are feeling very anxious, stressed and isolated since masks became mandatory as they rely on lip reading,” she said, “They are feeling completely on the outside and I can see from all perspectives more understanding is needed and less hate. You never know what’s happening in someone else’s life.”

If you choose not to wear your face covering or ignore a staff member’s request for you to wear one you can be subjected to a fine of up to €2,500 or six months imprisonment or both.

Students in schools and colleges are also obliged to wear a face mask where a 2m social distance cannot be maintained. Children under the age of 13 and students who have breathing difficulties or a disability are not required to wear a face covering.

According to Citizen Information, “Face coverings or barrier masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE). They are not intended to protect the wearer against viral infection. Instead, they may prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others,” so it is important you wear a face covering where possible and required in order to protect those in your community.

Although not everyone agrees with the legal obligation to wear a face covering, it is vital to continue maintaining a social distance, continue washing your hands and follow restrictions put in place by the government as closely as possible.

Note: This article was reuploaded on 26/03/21 due to a fault with The College View website.

Emily Clarke