ANGER over the regular presence in Scariff of a number of people protesting about pandemic public health guidelines has prompted furious debate on social media and a rejection of the anti-mask agenda.
Since the end of last year, a group of up to 10 people been gathering in the centre of the East Clare town at weekends, carrying placards with phrases including, ‘Breathe again, masks do nothing’ and ‘I am here for your freedom too’. It is understood the group operate under the name ‘Vigil for Freedom’.
In recent days, The Champion has been contacted by a concerned senior citizen living locally. In a strongly-worded letter, the man said he was “angered and appalled” by the demonstrations and the “callous disregard” of those taking part.
“At this time when hospitals are being overrun by the sick and dying it is just not acceptable to have this type of demonstration going on,” he said. “Doctors, nurses and other health workers are putting their own health on the line to tend to those who have become infected by Covid and for these people to turn up each week shows the contempt they have towards these gallant workers. Enough is enough. Go home and take your banners and leaflets with you. You are not wanted.”
The man also told The Champion that when he had engaged with the demonstrators and asked them how they could justify their protest given the numbers of people sick and dying, their response was, ‘It’s not Covid, it’s influenza’. “They are conspiracy theorists and we’ve all seen where those theories lead after the storming of the Capitol Building. I also have reason to believe some members of the protest group are travelling outside of their 5km limit to gather in Scariff. That shouldn’t be allowed, in the first place.”
Another local man, who went so far, last November, as to stage a counter-demonstration promoting mask wearing and compliance with public health guidelines, recently posted about his own frustration. “Older residents of the town, who have been in lockdown of some sort or other since March 2020 look out their windows with trepidation as it is,” he wrote, “and now face these placard bearing protestors rambling around the town, in and out of shops, while refusing to wear masks. These older persons are the people who I am posting for. The ones locked away in their homes, voiceless, and terrified that the virus is coming to get them. Hanging on the edge of their seat as the 6 o’clock bulletins add to their dread with increasing numbers of deaths and illness.”
An Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse who joined the discussion on social media expressed her outrage at the situation which she said “shows contempt for the people of Scariff”.
She said the pressure she and her colleagues in the ICU are experiencing is “almost impossible to describe”. “These people are in the catchment area of where I work,” she added. “I have no option but to treat them as I would any other patient and that is with respect. However it is clear that their opinion is what they want to impose on other people and that is just plain wrong.”
The protests are in stark contrast to the huge community effort in East Clare to support people during the pandemic. “These people don’t represent the vast majority,” said Councillor Pat Hayes. “It struck me when I saw them protesting last November. We had to call off centenary commemorations for The Scariff Martyrs, and to figure out what we could do under the restrictions to remember their bravery. Is this what the martyrs gave their lives for? I was seething. Then, I passed by the mart, where farmers couldn’t go even in and were standing outside trying to get a signal on their phones to try to buy and sell their animals.”
Councillor Hayes also noted a large increase in the incidence of Covid-19 infection in the region.
“I accept the right of people to protest peacefully, but what we have at the moment in East Clare is a huge rise in Covid-19 cases,” he said. “There is huge suffering and the behaviour of these people is an affront who are working so bravely on the frontline, whether they’re Gardaí or healthcare workers or people working in shops.”
The Cathaoirleach of the Killaloe Municipal District added that many people felt intimidated by the presence of the demonstrators. “They are creating a sense of intimation among elderly people who are only coming out to do their shopping. They’re avoiding the area and that’s just not right when people are already living fear of the virus. Then, you have some of these people going around inside shops with no masks on. They need to stop this behaviour, they don’t represent the people of East Clare.”
Inspector Michelle Moloney of Killaloe Garda Station confirmed that Gardaí are aware of the situation. “I would appeal to everyone to stay within their 5km travel limit,” she said. “It’s really important that people stick to the public health guidelines at this time.”
Efforts to contact some of those understood to be involved in the protest have been unsuccessful to-date.