Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs

Children's Experiences during COVID-19 Restrictions and Lockdowns: Engagement

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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Today, our engagement is with children from Brightening Air and The Ark on their experiences during Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns. Joining us are three children who are representatives of Brightening Air and The Ark. The Ark children's council is made up of children in fifth and sixth class from a number of schools across Dublin and the surrounding areas. The Brightening Air festival ran in June to reach out to children asking them to share their experiences of lockdown in a number of ways. On 11, 12 and 13 June, free live-streamed performances of a new show, "What Did I Miss?", aired to the public. An engagement programme with schools was organised and encouraged children to share how lockdown was for them. These programmes have resulted in the three children before us today being selected to come and share their experiences and those of other children.

We are really delighted, pleased and very excited to welcome you here today. It is great for us as a committee to be able to talk directly to you. I offer a very sincere welcome to LilyRose Wogan-Martin, Conor James and Olga Buckina. How are you all today? Are you feeling excited about this session? Yes. That is excellent. We are really looking forward to it.

The children are joining us virtually through MS Teams. They are joined by Ms Aideen Howard, director of The Ark. Ms Howard is also very welcome. The purpose of our meeting is to have conversation on sacrifices that were made during the lockdowns put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All of the children of Ireland, and around the world, had to adapt very quickly. There was home schooling. Some of us were not fans of that. There was separation from school friends, teachers, family members, including grandparents, and relatives. Children had to endure listening to very serious announcements by the leaders of our country on the lockdown restrictions and why they were necessary.

We recognise that children in Ireland missed out on many important celebrations and gatherings such as birthday parties, play dates with friends, sleepovers with friends and family and other special family celebrations. Some children had to come to terms with the upset of having first holy communion and confirmation celebrations cancelled or postponed, in some cases, at very short notice. Some children may have lost a loved one during lockdown, either because of Covid or for other medical reasons.

We acknowledge the sacrifices endured by children with specific needs who lost access to important medical appointments, respite and day care services during the pandemic. We also recognise the effect this pandemic has had on the mental health of our children.

The committee members and I are very much aware of all the sacrifices the children of Ireland have had to make during this pandemic. We thank the children presenting today, and all other children, for the sacrifices they have made during the pandemic. More importantly, we thank them for helping to protect and save the lives of sick and elderly people by adhering to lockdown restrictions. Children have made a significant contribution in trying to fight and beat this virus.

In years to come, when you are reading the history books or talking to your own children or grandchildren about the pandemic, you can take credit by telling them you played a big part in tackling the pandemic by making huge sacrifices and, in doing so, you did your country proud.

Before I ask our guests to speak, I must talk to them about some of the rules that we must follow during our meeting. As we all know, there are rules we all must follow in life, and even the committee members and I must adhere to certain rules. One of the rules at the start of the meeting is that I have to read out a statement, and I will explain what this means. If you say something during this meeting that you should not say, I will need to let you know that you should not say it. We would have to stop you speaking then and explain to you if there is a problem. However, I can see from you all here today and from reading your opening statements that you are all going to be fine and there is nothing to worry about in that regard.

I will now read out the statement that I must read at the start of all meetings. As all of the witnesses are appearing before the committee virtually, I need to point out that there is uncertainty if parliamentary privilege will apply to their evidence outside of the parliamentary precincts of Leinster House. If a witness is directed by me to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter, it is imperative that he or she complies with any such direction.

I ask everyone to keep their device on mute until they are asked to speak. I will call first on Ms Howard to say a few words, and then we will call on LilyRose, followed by Conor and then Olga.