March 16, 2020 / 8:39 AM / in 3 months

Northern Irish mother takes legal challenge to shut schools

BELFAST (Reuters) - A Northern Irish mother whose daughter suffers from underlying health problems and is at greater risk from coronavirus will start an emergency legal challenge on Monday against Britain’s decision to keep schools open, her lawyers said.

Britain has taken a different approach to EU countries such as Ireland, which shares an open border with Northern Ireland, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it was premature to take measures like closing schools and banning mass gatherings.

That meant that on Monday schools were open in British-run Northern Ireland but closed just across the 500-km (300 miles) land frontier in the Irish Republic, which shut all schools and universities on Friday and also asked all pubs to shut their doors on Sunday.

The mother, whose child attends a primary school in the border county of Armagh, put the region’s education authorities and its ministers for health and education on notice late on Sunday of her intention to apply for an emergency judicial review.

“It is clear that the respective public bodies have each failed in their respective obligations to our client, and indeed all children, by continuing to require their attendance at school in circumstances in which they would be at an increased risk of contracting the condition,” lawyer Darragh Mackin of Phoenix Law said in a statement.

“There is no time for any further delay. The necessary policies and decisions all need to be taken in a manner that recognizes the real and immediate risk.”

The differing policies in both jurisdictions have caused a split in Northern Ireland’s power sharing government with Irish nationalists Sinn Fein calling for schools to be closed and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) backing the British government’s public health advice.

Writing by Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Giles Elgood

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