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Anti-mask groups used Telegram to bombard National Parents Council over child facemask rules

The council has received thousands of calls and emails.
Nov 30th 2021, 12:05 AM 46,864 0

ANTI-COVID GROUPS organised a campaign on Telegram and Facebook to contact the National Parents Council (NPC) to complain about schoolchildren having to wear masks, The Journal has learned.

The NPC has received thousands of calls and emails since news of the planned changes were announced last Thursday. 

Many of the calls, according to the NPC, were from people who said they were concerned parents who felt they could be putting their child at risk by making them wear a mask to school. 

People who said they were parents of children with autism and asthmatic children were some of the most concerned, one well-placed source told us.

While some of the calls and emails may have been legitimate, there is evidence of a coordinated campaign designed by far-right Covid deniers to bombard the NPC, which is the only representative organisation for parents of children in primary school. 

The National Parents Council received more than 700 contacts within hours of NPHET’s recommendation to government on Thursday that masks should be worn by children aged nine and older, according to one media report. The number has grown into the thousands since then, The Journal has confirmed. 

The recommendation meant that children aged between 9 and 12 are now advised to wear masks in indoor settings where they had previously been exempt. 

Following the news, the NPC’s phone number and email address was shared on highly prominent far-right Telegram and Facebook groups along with messages encouraging members to contact them with as many emails and calls as possible. 

These groups, collectively, have tens of thousands of members.

In one of the main groups where the message about the NPC was shared, anti-mask and anti-vaccination memes were also shared repeatedly, alongside images calling for people to ‘stand up’ for children’. One such meme suggested that children could risk strokes, heart attacks and spontaneous death from vaccines. 

Large numbers of people posted the automated response they received from the NPC, informing them that the organisation was receiving an unprecedented number of phone calls and emails.

Fine Gael senator John McGahon, who has been calling for Government regulation of social media, told The Journal that anti-Covid groups bombarding the NPC with emails are paralysing the good work of the council.

“First of all, this is intimidation,” he said. “The second thing is by sending so many emails and phone calls, you are essentially paralysing their own email systems and work-functioning abilities.”

“I think it has to be really clear that that’s seen for what it is -  that this isn’t [necessarily] people who are concerned or have genuine issues are willing to debate or discuss anything. These people are disruptors. There are people who have long histories of trying to disrupt civil society. They’re trying to do this again today. And I don’t think we should be taking their concerns seriously.”

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McGahon said that his concerns lie with the families of those who are genuinely concerned and contacted the NPC for help or to put forward a legitimate question which may now go unanswered due to the volume of calls and emails.

“If you’re getting hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails every couple of minutes, you’re not going to be able to then find the real person who’s looking for genuine information. It’s so much easier for genuine calls and emails to fall through the cracks.

“It’s a targeted campaign of harassment. It’s the National Parents Council today with somebody else tomorrow because these people are like piranhas swimming around and just latching on to the next hate figure that they have conjured up.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance said it had also been receiving messages from members and parents about facemasks. 

“It is vitally important that Government provides crystal clear advice to schools now, rather than later, to ensure they take account of each child’s needs in accessing their right to an education,” said Tanya Ward, its chief executive. “Clear guidance will also avoid unnecessary conflict and distress.”

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Garreth MacNamee


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